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Advocates for 'Iran 10' worry about Bush policy
Advocates for Iranian Jews worried about Bush's Iran policy
By Michael J. Jordan
Jewish Telegraphic Agency
January 29, 2001
NEW YORK As the Bush administration settles in,
several signs suggest it will pursue a policy toward Iran that resembles U.S.
policy toward China, in which commercial interests outweigh human rights
This could deal a blow to U.S. Jews lobbying on behalf of 10 Iranian
Jews imprisoned -- wrongly, it is widely believed -- for spying for Israel.
It also doesn't bode well for the other 25,000 Jews remaining in Iran. A
trickle continues to emigrate each year, discouraged by the treatment of Jews
Iran's Islamic republic and by the prospects of future reform.
Indeed, the Clinton administration made initial overtures to Iran last
spring -- lifting a ban on the import of pistachios, carpets and caviar -- and
voiced its support for the country's fledgling reform movement.
Yet Tehran appears to be repaying the gesture by turning even more
hard-line: A fresh crackdown on critics of the regime has landed a number of
students, journalists and dissident clerics in jail.
It's unclear if this signals a death knell for reform efforts, or if it
spark a violent backlash from opponents of the regime.
Despite the crackdown, recent U.S. news reports say Washington is
weighing the possibility of lifting or downscaling sanctions against Iran.
American companies are banned from doing business in Iran because of
its place on the State Department's annual list of sponsors of terrorism. In
addition, a 1996 law calls for punitive trade measures against foreign
and countries that invest in Iran's energy sector.
One common argument against sanctions is that they are ineffective
against Iran but harm American business. While American oil and energy
concerns can't invest in Iran, competitors -- from France and Russia, for
example -- conduct business there freely.
In his mid-January confirmation hearings, Secretary of State Colin
Powell said relations with Iran would be reassessed.
``We have important differences on matters of policy," Powell said,
``but these differences need not preclude greater interaction, whether in more
normal commerce or increased dialogue."
At the same time, the State Department is said to have put out feelers to
various special interests -- including Jewish advocates for the ``Iran 10" --
gauge their reaction if sanctions are ended.
``They say the carrot-and-stick approach hasn't worked with Iran, so
why deny American business in the process?" said Pooya Dayanim, spokesman
for the Los Angeles-based Council of Iranian American Jewish Organizations.
Dayanim is one of those the State Department contacted.
``They believe that once there's more interaction, with businessmen
going back and forth, it could ease the tension between the two countries and
fate of Iranian Jews," he said.
A State Department official declined to respond.
Another leading advocate for the jailed Jews confirmed that the idea of
engaging Iran is being circulated.
``I don't know who's been contacted, but the idea has been floated,
indirectly," said Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference
of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.
Not all agree that the sanctions regime has been ineffective.
While economic sanctions indeed have failed in some world trouble
spots, ``it is clear that sanctions against Iran have worked," said Sam
secretary-general of the American Iranian Jewish Federation of Los Angeles.
``At least some reform is attributable to the fact that at some point,
some Iranians realized that the government cannot stay hostile to the world
pursue violent policies, and at the same time expect the rest of the world to
in line and extend them credit and investments," Kermanian said.
``Lifting sanctions now would be seen as support for the hard-liners,"
In any case, prospects for a reprieve for the Iran 10 have dimmed. They
were sentenced in September to terms ranging from two to nine years, allegedly
for spying for Israel.
Their court appeal appears to have been rejected last week, though
there has not yet been any official confirmation.
Advocates say the Iran 10 have been made into scapegoats to divert
Iranians' attention away from pressing social and political concerns toward a
The families of the Iran 10 have indicated that their jailed relatives
given up hope of receiving justice through the courts and are ready to accept
their fate, Dayanim said.
Their last chance may be an appeal for clemency to Iran's Supreme
Ruler, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
``They say, 'When the Supreme Ruler decides to let us free, that's
when we'll be free,'" Dayanim said.
In the meantime, Jews continue to emigrate from Iran at the rate of 300
to 400 a year, gradually bringing to a close the 2,700-year Jewish presence in
Iran. Emigration reached its peak in the mid-1980s, when as many as 4,000 Jews
left each year.
A recent batch of immigrants -- leaving legally through Vienna, which
generally is a temporary stop en route to the United States -- included the
of one of the Iran 10.
Dayanim and his colleagues were disturbed to learn that relatives of a
second prisoner recently were forced off a plane headed to Vienna, and their
passports were confiscated.
Several observers suggested it is still too early to speculate on Bush
administration policy toward Iran, and said it is understandable that a new
administration would review its predecessor's policies.
However, big business presumably will find a sympathetic ear in the
White House. Both President Bush and Vice President Cheney are former oil
executives, and Cheney, as head of oil services giant Halliburton, lobbied the
Clinton administration to lift sanctions on Iran.
Iran is reported to be OPEC's second largest producer of oil after Saudi
Arabia, generating some 3.7 million barrels per day.
On the other hand, observers say, a split Congress may find it difficult
to ignore Iran's nuclearization program, its production of biological and
chemical weapons and its sponsorship of terrorism.
The Conference of Presidents has several meetings scheduled with
administration officials in coming weeks.
Iran ``will certainly be on our agenda," Hoenlein said, ``and I assume it
will be on theirs."
The mantra of ``trying to strengthen the hand of moderates -- this is a
fiction," Hoenlein said. ``There are many conclusive signs that indicate no
Rather, revolution may be on the horizon.
``The facade of" Iranian President Mohammed ``Khatami as a reformer
has fallen off," Dayanim said.
``The students, as the heart of the reformist movement, are becoming
more militant and openly critical of the system under which they live," he
``Fifty thousand students recently wrote to the government, saying, 'Change,
Lifting the U.S. sanctions, Dayanim added, would be ``a monumental
mistake. If they hold back a year or two, I think the government" in Iran
What's not clear is how many Iranian Jews will be around to see it.
© JTA Inc., 2000. May not be reproduced without written permission.