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Iranian Human Rights Group Hopes the U.S. Stays Out of Election

Very little is clear in the Iranian election, aside from the fact that the opposition does not credit for a moment the legitimacy of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad winning more than 60 percent of the vote to Mir Hossein Moussavi’s 30 percent. Juan Cole has a sober and detailed post giving reasons to disbelieve the official results. Via Andrew Sullivan and the National Iranian-American Council’s new blog translating Farsi-language Tweets, the president of the Iranian election-monitoring commission has declared the results invalid.

So what should the Obama administration do? Around 1 p.m., White House spokesman Robert Gibbs put out this statement:

Like the rest of the world, we were impressed by the vigorous debate and enthusiasm that this election generated, particularly among young Iranians. We continue to monitor the entire situation closely, including reports of irregularities.

That’s flat, tepid and noncommittal. The White House is trying to strike a balance between three pressures: speaking in a Samizdat fashion to the Moussavi supporters who have just seen the election stolen by Ahmadinejad and the regime; not interfering in post-election events out of a very justified concern that the appearance of U.S. involvement will act as a delegitimizing force; and preserving the administration’s freedom of action should it have to accept a second Ahmadinejad term.

And with the exception of respecting the third consideration, the strongly anti-Ahmadinejad Hadi Ghaemi, New York-based spokesman for the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran, doesn’t think the White House ought to say much else.

The White House statement may not fully capture the depth of the crime committed against the Iranian people. “But I think it’s wise for the U.S. government to keep its distance,” Ghaemi said in a phone interview. The White House can and should “show concern for human life and protesters’ safety and promote tolerance and dialogue.” But to get any further involved, even rhetorically, would “instigate the cry that the reformers are somehow driven and directed by the United States, whether under former President George W. Bush or under President Obama, and there’s no reason to give that unfounded allegation” any chance to spread.

Ghaemi continues to say that the international community should present a united front that gives “no legitimacy” to the election. In particular, he wants United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to express “serious grievances” about how the election was conducted. “Sanctions and military threats, all these things are counterproductive,” Ghaemi said. The initiative has to be expressed and promoted by the Iranians themselves, particularly from Moussavi and other exponents of popular Iranian outrage. “It very much depends on what leading reformers, including Moussavi, ask them to do, and how much responsibility do they take for exposing them to danger. If they put their tails between their legs and walk away, it will be very sad.”

After years of being told in this country that no initiative for the expansion of global human rights will occur absent active U.S. support, Ghaemi’s advice can come across as passivity or indifference. But that reflects a certain arrogance, and occurs at the expense of the goal in question. “We should not have the U.S. lead,” says Ghaemi. Instead, the Iranian people have to lead, and the international community, with the United States in a background and muted role, ought to refuse acceptance of the regime’s contentions, and not offer positive endorsements of the dissidents and the protesters.

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