18 April 2009

Iran Speaks Conflict: Understanding the Case of Roxana Saberi

NPR's Jacki Lyden spoke with Hadi Ghaemi of the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran. Ghaemi, an Iranian dissident who has spent the last 25 years in the United States, says Iran doesn't know how to respond to the new, open hand of the Obama administration, and that hard-line elements within the country have seized on the case of Roxana Saberi to sow conflict with the U.S.

Ghaemi has studied human rights and Iranian foreign policy since he left Iran. He says he's surprised by the ruling.

The verdict was much, much harsher than anything similar to it. The surprise here is that Roxana is neither an activist, she has not been involved in anything that could domestically be considered a threat to Iranian government, and for Iranian leadership to use her this way, it only sends the message that she has become the tool of Iranian foreign policy at the moment. Now what is the message and use of that tool is something that there are a couple of different possibilities.

Ghaemi thinks the appeals process presents a possible glimmer of hope, and that Iran actually could review the case very quickly and render a different decision via appeal. Certainly, this is what he hopes will happen. At the same time, however, Ghaemi considers Saberi very much a pawn in a broader--and more troubling--diplomatic picture, which outcome is none too clear.

She's being used by hard-line elements in Iran to torpedo, uh, possible improvements of relations with the United States. I think the Iranian leadership is very confused and insecure at the initiatives that President Obama has presented toward Iran. So I think by creating this crisis they do get the opportunity to perhaps make the U.S. policies return to more confrontational basis.

Ghaemi's assessment is hardly reassuring. But if his take on the internal politics is correct, then I'd go so far as to say that President Obama's approach to Iran is working. All the more reason NOT to adopt a tone of aggression (as advocated here) which would only play into what appears to be Iran's strategy of choice, haphazard as that strategy may be. If Iran's hard liners are hoping to provoke a hard-line U.S. response, then the last thing the administration should do--and the last thing Saberi needs--is to give that contingent what they want.