Trita Parsi on Obama’s Iran Comments

June 16, 2009 | Last updated: July 31, 2020

After two days of criticism that he should explicitly side with the Iranian opposition, President Obama yesterday said he was “deeply troubled” by the Iranian regime’s willingness to resort to violence, and while it’s “up to Iranians to make decisions about who Iran’s leaders will be,” he believes “the Iranian people and their voices should be heard and respected.” Trita Parsi, head of the National Iranian American Council — whose blog has been a valuable resource for getting information from and about the opposition — told me that the president’s comment was “completely on point.” Obama took a “strong stand for human rights, free speech and the [cessation] of violence,” Parsi said, while at the same time making “sure that the issue is Iran, not the U.S.,” and in particular “electoral fraud, and the rights of the people to get their votes counted.”

Now, irony is when someone who helped broker the sale of American weapons to the Iranian government calls someone else “a leading apologist for the regime,” but if you read my colleague David Weigel’s piece today about conservative advice for Obama on Iran, you noticed that Michael Ledeen said exactly that about Parsi. Dismissing Parsi’s argument that external rhetorical support for the opposition could be used against it by Ahmadinejad, Ledeen told Weigel, “Why would a statement supporting the freedom of the Iranian people undermine the movement?”

Parsi said he wouldn’t reply to personal attacks. But he said, “no serious human rights actvist has gone out and supported making the U.S. the issue in the election,” since real human rights activists support “condemning the use of violence” by the regime. “What these conservatives are saying — they’ve got no track record of supporting real human rights in Iran, and are only seeking to advance their own agenda” by making “the U.S. part of the issue,” Parsi said. “They pretend to speak in favor of the protesters without ever considering what the Iranian people want. And the people who brought us the Iraq war don’t have a leg to stand on on this issue.”

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