Omid Memarian

Friday, September 26, 2008

Ahmadinejad Open to U.S. Talks, Denounces Threats

(My story about President Ahmadinejad's press conference at the United Nations, New York, IPS News Agency)

UNITED NATIONS, Sep 24 (IPS) - At a press conference following his speech to the U.N. General Assembly Tuesday, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said he would welcome discussions with the U.S. presidential candidates, but added that "the condition is that our meeting should be open so that all media know what happens."

Ahmadinejad's appearance in New York provoked a series of demonstrations against Iran's human rights record and by Jewish groups angry at his description of the Nazi Holocaust as a "myth".

In a fiery speech at the U.N., he maintained his harsh tone toward Israel, but welcomed opening a dialogue with the United States, if Washington backed off from its threat of military force.

While Democrat Barack Obama has said he would focus on sanctions and direct diplomacy with Tehran, neither he nor his Republican opponent, John McCain, are willing to take the military option "off the table".

Ahmadinejad stressed that the U.S. government unilaterally severed its relations with Iran in 1979. "We have always been in favour of relations with other countries. The U.S. government thought by cutting ties they can punish Iran and prevent the development of out nation, but we are now stronger and more developed than the past," he said. (Continue...)

Thursday, September 25, 2008

When Palin Meet Ahmadinejad in Tehran?
(First appeared on Huffington Post)

It was a meaningful moment this morning for Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to be present in the General Assembly Hall to listen to President W. Bush's last speech to member states. But, is this a message to the United States? It certainly is. There is no doubt in anyone's mind that the mood in Tehran and Washington has changed.

It might seem that Ahmadinejad's third appearance at the United Nations this week seemed to provide the Republican campaign with another chance to attack Obama over his previous promise that, should he become president, he will meet with U.S. adversaries, including the president of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. But the fact of the matter is that, regardless of who goes to the White House this January, the U.S. will start negotiations with the Iranian government, whether or not Ahmadinejad is Iran's new president.

However, due to the long history of hostility between the two states, politicians hesitate to acknowledge this fact. They continue to employ the carrot-stick style of foreign policy, first, in hope of gaining more in future negotiations with the Iranians and second, to save face before the American public, the administration has postponed something that it should have been done during the Iraq invasion in 2003, when Iranians felt extremely threatened and were ready to talk to the U.S. about any subject without any preconditions.

That's why no wise man in Washington or Tehran would take Palin's initial decision to participate in an Anti-Ahmadinejad protest seriously.

It was not surprising that few politicians supported the thought of a protest against the Iranian president. This fact might seem a little paradoxical, given that confronting Iran has been a centerpiece of the foreign policy agenda for much of the Bush administration.

Yet since 2007, even the Bush administration has come to the conclusion that, given the increasing amount of violence in Pakistan, an unstable situation in Afghanistan, the unfinished job to destroy Al-Qaeda, the disastrous peace process in the Middle East and, most recently, the bombing in Yemen, the U.S. has no choice but to talk with Iran, which now is arguably the most influential country in the region.

The United States has a long history of talking to adversaries -- most recently Libya and North Korea, but until this January, the government seemed to believe that it was better to postpone talking about the U.S's and Iran's joint strategic interests in the region.

The Republican campaign's current attack on Obama for his willingness to speak with Ahmadinjad is merely a poor attempt to suggest the naiveté of Obama's foreign policy judgment. It is based more on America's voting public's poor understanding about foreign policy than on specific facts.

For Ahmadinejad and conservatives in Tehran, however, it really does not make any difference whether the next U.S. president is a Democrat or a Republican, though Republicans historically have been friendlier with Iran.

So, forget Sarah Palin's suggestion to participate in a protest against Ahmadinejad in front of the United Nation's building. It is just a campaign fundraising tactic, Surprisingly, out of all the Middle Eastern leaders; no one is probably more similar to Palin than Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Both Ahmadinejad and Sarah Palin were governors and mayors before running for national office. However, Ahmadinejad was the mayor of Tehran, with a population of 10 million while Palin was the mayor of Wasilla, with a population of just 7000.

Both ran for their mayoral positions on a very populist agenda: diminishing corruption, fighting against the party establishment, and speaking for the people.

Ahmadinejad's major foreign trip before become president was limited to a trip to Russia. Palin is also proud that she can see Russia from her house. Both were unknown on the national stage before running for presidency or vice presidency, and, more importantly, both are extremely ambitious.

Palin's tremendous sense of ambition might lead her to the extremes, such as bombing Iran or engaging in a comprehensive negotiation process, in order to solve America's messed up situation in the Middle East.

While there is no prospect for going to war with Iran, it's not far to imagine President Ahmadinejad and Sarah Palin, sitting and talking about their mutual concerns. She would be able to take such an extreme and necessary step for the United States. I did not consider Sen. McCain because two years from now, I do not think he will be healthy enough to leave the country.

Monday, September 22, 2008

 Activists Spotlight Rights Abuses on Eve of U.N. Meet
By Omid Memarian

(My story about the human rights activists' press conference a day before President Ahmadinejad's talk at the United Nations, New York)

UNITED NATIONS, Sep 22 (IPS) - A day before Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad addresses world leaders at the United Nations, human rights activists criticised his government's record and urged the international community to hold the president accountable during his visit to New York.

At a press conference Monday held by Human Rights Watch and the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran, activists stressed that basic human rights protections in Iran have deteriorated to new lows.

"The most urgent in relation to human rights in Iran is repression of civil society across the board, journalists, academics and human rights defenders who have gone to prison during President Ahmadinejad's tenure... [it] is a reminder to the world that there is a human rights crisis in Iran that is not diminishing -- it is actually escalating," Minky Worden, media director at Human Rights Watch, told IPS.

"It's very important for journalists and U.N. representative and other leaders to remind him that Iran is very much outside human rights norms and that all of these documents and treaties in relate to human rights that Ahmadinejad's government is signed on to they are not honouring those treaties," said Worden, adding that, "It's time for Iran to rejoin the international human rights norm."

A new briefing paper by the two groups, "Iran Rights Crisis Escalates: Faces and Cases from Ahmadinejad's Crackdown," documents the dire situation for human rights defenders and key dimensions of the human rights crisis in Iran today. Released ahead of Ahmadinejad's arrival at the opening ceremonies of the U.N. General Assembly, it highlights Iran's status as the world leader in juvenile executions.

Iran has executed six juvenile offenders so far in 2008, and more than 130 other juvenile offenders have been sentenced to death and are awaiting execution, according to human rights organisations.. (Continue...)

(Photo: From right to left: Minky Worden, Akbar Ganji, Hadi Ghaemi and Mehrangiz Kar / Credit:Omid Memarian/IPS)

Saturday, September 20, 2008

POLITICS: Iranians Hope for Temperate President at the U.N.
By Omid Memarian
(This piece was published in IPS News Agency and reprinted on Asia Times)

BERKELEY, California, Sep18 (IPS) - When Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad attends the 63rd session of the General Assembly next week in New York, many Iranian academics and political activists hope he will avoid the kinds of controversial statements that have hurt Iran's international image since he was elected to the office in 2005.

In his third visit to U.N. headquarters in the United States, Ahmadinejad will address heads of state from around the world amid objections from human rights organisations and at least one pro-Israel rally that is scheduled to take place in front of the U.N. building.

Ahmadinejad's controversial remarks about Israel and description of the Holocaust by Nazi Germany as a "myth" have provoked a tremendous backlash by the international community during the past three years.

Asked what Iranians expect their president to say, and not to say, at the United Nations, Sadegh Zibakalam, a political science professor at the University of Tehran, told IPS in a telephone interview that he should avoid discussion of the Arab-Israeli conflict and especially the Holocaust.

"He mustn't discuss the Holocaust issue. He must refrain from discussing Israel's annihilation and its leaders' demise," Zibakalam said.

"He should not discuss Iran's eventual victory over the United States and its attempts to teach humanity a lesson -- he must seriously stay away from this type of rhetoric," said Zibakalam.

"He must move towards language through which he can demonstrate the Iranian people's respect for Americans and their elected leaders, respecting whomever will be the elected president of the U.S., whether Democrat or Republican, demonstrating [Iran's] willingness to seriously negotiate about Iran's regional and nuclear issues with the next president," he added.

Pres. Ahmadinejad has repeatedly said that he is willing to talk to the United States and other nations. However, his aggressive tone and Iran's dismissal of a series of U.N. Security Council resolutions against its nuclear programme, coupled with Washington's repeated accusations of meddling in Iraq, have sent a somewhat different message.

"He has announced on numerous occasions his desire to negotiate or to reach a resolution through negotiations," Ali Mazroui, a former member of Iran's Parliament, told IPS. "His rhetoric and his actions, however, have fallen short of providing assurances [to those countries], enlisting their response."

"There is a kind of contradiction between Mr. Ahmadinejad's verbal and actual policies. I have no hope for any kind of change regarding new avenues for Iran during this trip," added Mazroui.

Regarding plans by human rights and Jewish groups to stage news conferences to protest the situation of human rights in Iran and Ahmadinejad's speeches against Israel, Dr. Elaheh Koulaee, also a former parliamentarian and now a professor at the University of Tehran, told IPS that the determining factor in international politics has always been the consensus among powerful countries of the world.

"Street protests and civil society activities have not been terribly influential in Iran-U.S. relations," she said. "Therefore if Iran and the U.S. use opportunities available to them to discuss their needs within the framework of their interests, I doubt these types of protests will affect those dialogues."

Last month, Esfandiar Rahim Mashaie, Iran's vice president, said that Iran is "friends of all people in the world -- even Israelis." His remarks were widely denounced by Iran's hardliner establishment. Mashaie later claimed that his comments were misrepresented and clarified that that no one inside Iran recognises the Zionist regime. Surprisingly, the president has resisted intense pressure from the Parliament and some of the hardliner Ayatollahs and has not yet commented on the controversy.

The Islamic Republic has never recognised the state of Israel, and it remains unclear whether Mashaie's remarks and Ahmadinejad's silence denote a policy shift, or whether it was simply a gaffe.

"[Ahmadinejad] has said things in international circles which have led those countries to assume a negative position vis-a-vis Iran, as opposed to improving our relations with them. For example, what he said about Israel and Holocaust and the tensions he created on international and regional political levels," said Mazroui. "I think none of these discussions can help Iran."

Hooshang Amirahmadi, president of the American Iranian Council and a professor at Rutgers University, told IPS that the Iranian people are wary of war and have been badly hurt by years of sanctions.

"They want nothing more than peace and are yearning for prosperity. U.S.-Iran relations have been their key concern for years and at present over 90 percent of Iranians, including those in the government, want the relations normalised and quickly."

Amirahmadi, who is going to meet the Iranian delegation during their time in New York, has traveled to Iran several times during the past six months and has visited with President Ahmadinejad. He believes that the majority of the Iranian people want their president use the opportunity of his presence on U.S. soil to build goodwill with the U.S. people and government.

"This means that they do not want Pres. Ahmadinejad to use words and terminologies that will be annoying to his host," said Amirahmadi. "More importantly, they want the president speak of the Americans very highly and with utmost respect."

"I think Mr. Ahmadinejad should also use the opportunity to mend relations with a key player in U.S.-Iran relations, namely Israel," he added. "Here is an opportunity for him to reinforce the view expressed by one of his VPs that Iran is a friend of the Israeli people and that Iran consider the Jewish people as friends of Iran, though there are those in that community who are inimical toward the Islamic Republic."

However, it appears unlikely that this will come to pass. At a press conference in Tehran this week, Ahmadinejad repeated his assertion that the Holocaust was a "fake" and said the Jewish state would not survive in any form.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

What Do Sarah Palin and Dick Cheney have in Common?
(First appeard on

1- Both overshadow the presidents they serve or are going to serve. It's hard to believe that during his administration, President Bush has made a single big decision without the supervision of his VP, Dick Cheney. On the other hand, in the two weeks since her nomination, Sarah Palin has effectively made Sen. McCain appear as No. 2 in the campaign; the Republicans' conservative base is much more enthusiastic about their VP than they are about the head of the ticket.

2- Both Cheney and Palin are better speakers than Bush and McCain, and both profess values that are in line with the policies of the Bush administration.

3- Both love hunting. It's not clear how this ties into their social and political values, particularly when it comes to foreign policy. But, it is a commonality. Both love guns: one locally, the other globally.

4- Both are interested in oil, energy and pipelines. Almost every expert in the field of energy believes that the current crises in oil production, demand and supply are consequences of global economic growth, particularly in developing countries like China. Republicans, however, believe offshore drilling is the solution. (Why?)

5- Both have - or will have- strong influence, or even control, over the President. In Cheney's case, it seems that President Bush, for whatever reason, has no other option to get the job done; in Palin's case, it seems that Sen. McCain's age, his short memory, his fragile position among the hard-line conservatives and Palin's own aggressive nature will lead her to jump and answer the 3 a.m. call.

6- Both have a daughter that contradicts their conservative values. There is a slight difference: in Cheney's case, it is a matter of his adult daughter's orientation, whereas in Palin's case, it is a matter of a lack of sex education. Interestingly, both dealt with their family issues in a rather liberal manner.

7- For obvious reasons, both hesitate to appear on TV shows and expose themselves the media.

8- Both invoke God to justify their foreign policy. Palin's remark about Iraq being a task from God is just an example. (George Bush: 'God told me to end the tyranny in Iraq')

9- Both enjoy the same team of advisors and speechwriters.

10- Both are longing for the days to come after the election. Palin will start her unexpected dream job, and Cheney will be relieved of 8 years of service with one of the most unpopular President the United States has ever had.

10+1- Both fit the pitbull analogy in both campaign strategy and foreign policy style. The only difference is one wears lipstick.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Shimon Prez: The Americans are making a mistake in their foreign policy

He might be the last person you expect to criticize U.S. foreign policy. In an interview with Sunday Times President Prez, 85, says why he thinks that Iran is not Israel's enemy: 

“The military way will not solve the problem,” said Peres, the 85-year-old founder of the Jewish state’s nuclear programme, in an interview with The Sunday Times.
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Sipping black coffee at the presidential residence in Jerusalem, Peres also criticised American foreign policy in highly unusual terms for an Israeli leader, saying it relied too much on military force in attempts to impose democracy on the Middle East.

“Bush stood up with the democratic slogan [for the Middle East] which is based on American democratic ideas and faced . . . enormous opposition,” he said." (Read the rest of the interview here)

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Tuesdays with Rupert

A good story about Rupert Rupert Murdoc in Vanity Fair October issue:
"uying The Wall Street Journal was surely an exercise of pure fantasy. To think he could take over a company absolutely controlled by a family that had repeatedly said it would never sell was fantasy. To think it was worth what he was paying for it was fantasy. And yet … now it’s his, and if his shareholders are puzzled and grumpy (News Corp. shares are down by more than 30 percent since he bought Dow Jones), so be it (he’ll ignore them as much as he ignores his other critics). He’s in it for the long haul—even at 77." (Read the rest of the story here)

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Democrats' Post Palin Campaign Strategy: Ignore Her, Attack McCain?
(First appeared on

A week after John McCain announced Alaskan governor Sarah Palin as his running mate, the Republican campaign strategy seems to have regressed to that of the 2004 elections, focusing more on the Democracrs characters rather than actual issues.
Also, the Palin "phenomenon" appears to be distracting Democrats from the main point of their campaign: strengthening the McCain-Bush connection.
After Palin's speech at the GOP Convention, we can now say that McCain's vice president selection was one of the smartest decisions he could have made, not only with respect to the Republican agenda but also regarding the nature and dynamics of the two campaigns.

She should enjoy embracing the legacy of a double-standard seen in Sen. Clinton's campaign against Obama. Anyone who attacks Palin could be accused of sexism while any attacks she levies against others will only further prove her self-confidence and readiness for the job. Criticizing Palin thus just enhances her position on McCain's ticket. Should Democrats question her past, personal characteristics, flaws, or level of experience, Rapublicans can fire back with similar questions about Obama. This will only divert voters' attention away from the major issues at hand, specifically the similarities between McCain's and Bush's policies.

It's fair to say that Palin's effect on the Republican Party is similar to Obama's impact on the Democrats. Like Obama, she appeals to the average American. She is ambitious, hardworking, family-oriented, tough, aggressive, a capable speaker, and a Washington outsider.

She also compensates McCain's poor communication skills. Despite having a thin resume and meager national experience, she has shown that with a good script, she can be a capable attack dog.

However, unlike Obama who has worked in national and international politics for years, Palin's experience lies only in local politics. Her education is average, and her sarcasm is mean. Yet, her core values match those of conservative Republicans, giving the more moderate McCain a connection to these voters.

While it remains unclear whether Palin is the right person for the job, it is apparent that during her brief time on the national stage, she has managed to shift the direction of the presidential campaign from targeting substantial issues to targeting personal characters.

Palin, however, has a long way to go. Only by responding intelligently to questions posed by analysts and opponents will she prove that she is ready for the job and not just on the Republican ticket to lure small town Americans and disenchanted Clinton supporters. By questioning Palin's qualifications, Democrats are just wasting precious time and energy
Republicans have shown in past few elections that they are masters of effective campaigning. Only by attacking McCain's and Bush's policies can Democrats put Palin in a corner and make her prove herself.

The ball is now in the Democrats court.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Will Palin Cover McCain's Age Problem?

One might think that McCain's extensive experience gives him the security to choose a younger, relatively inexperienced running mate. But this is not the issue. The fact of the matter is, if something happens to McCain's health (and that is a definite possibility), does Palin have the experience to lead the country?

A VP must be able to successfully assume presidency should something happen to the president before the next election.

McCain should have chosen an experienced person, who not only has been a player in national politics but also is familiar with in the international atmosphere and the United States' current problems in the world. Sarah Palin is a capable local politician with a shining future, but her youth does not compensate for her lack of experience or Sen. McCain's shortcomings, particularly his age.

McCain deflected questions about his age during the primary campaign by mentioning the good health of his 96 year-old mother. But the president's job is tough; it requires hours of relentless work without sleep and asks one to make critical decisions under tremendous pressure. The president needs to be highly intelligent, energetic, and sharp in both brain and body.

Some of McCain's recent mistakes, like his Internet illiteracy, references to the "Iraqi-Pakistani border" and accusations that Iranians are training Al-Qaeda operatives, are the direct consequences of his age.

Serving the country with bravery and then writing a compelling biography are not enough to lead a country. McCain's Vietnam experience is an extraordinary, fascinating story, but does not enhance his current mental abilities or decrease his risk of a heart attack.

To place the well-being his country first, McCain should have selected a more qualified running mate with the potential to be president, not somebody whose first foreign policy lesson will be matching names with the appropriate country on a map. Sen. McCain's effort to attract disenchanted seems to be the main factor in choosing the unknown Alaskan governor.

Contrary to McCain's campaign promise, he is not putting the country first, but rather his dream of occupying the White House.

On June 26, senior adviser to McCain Steve Schmidt claimed that, "Too many in Washington are putting politics first and country second." It seems McCain is on the same path. Mark Salter the co-author of McCain's five books and a close advisor said recently: "We're not going to do anything dishonorable. But we are going to try to win." Well Sen. McCain, you are on track!