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News | Abdollah Nouri: Hold National Referendum on Nuclear Program

by MUHAMMAD SAHIMI

12 Jul 2012 02:45Comments

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AbdollahNouriVertical.jpg 2:45 a.m. IRDT, 22 Tir/July 12 In a meeting at his Tehran home with a group of academics and university activists on Wednesday, former interior minister Abdollah Nouri, a disciple of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, proposed a national referendum to allow the Iranian people to decide what to do about the country's nuclear program and, hence, the standoff with the United States and its allies. While defending a peaceful nuclear program as Iran's "fundamental right," he described the economic "trap" into which the Western powers have led the country and argued that Iranians must not allow a single issue, however important, "to threaten all of our national interests."

Nouri, born in 1949, is a cleric who is widely popular among university students, reformists, and other supporters of the Green Movement. He was a Majles deputy during the Second and part of the Third Majles (1984-89), then left to take over the Interior Ministry in the first Rafsanjani administration. In 1993, along with then minister of culture and Islamic guidance Mohammad Khatami, he was forced out of office by the ultra-conservatives. He was elected again as a legislator to the Fifth Majles in 1996, and again left to head the Interior Ministry the following year in the first Khatami administration. In 1998, however, he was impeached by the right-wing-controlled parliament due to his efforts to institutionalize freedoms for peaceful gatherings and demonstrations and his support for former Tehran mayor Gholam Hossein Karbaschi and Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri, who had been put under house arrest. Later that year, Nouri was elected to Tehran's first city council.

Soon after, he launched a reformist newspaper, Khordad, that was very successful until it was closed by the hardliners in 2000. He was subsequently tried on an array of anti-state and anti-religious charges by the Special Court for the Clergy, an illegal extrajudicial organ used by the hardliners to monitor the clerics. At the same time as he rejected the court's validity, he presented a fervent defense. During the trial, he famously enraged the hardliners when he declared, "If the Palestinian people want peace with Israel, who are we to want war with it." Observing that the prosecutor, cleric Mohammad Ebrahim Nekoo Nam, was accusing him of "lying, spreading falsehood, and acting against [Islam]," Nouri continued, "If he is right, then I am the symbol of the clergy, and if he is not right, then he is the symbol of the same" -- exposing the logical conclusion that either way the clergy was in trouble. He defended the right of former prime minister Mehdi Bazargan's Liberation Movement of Iran, as well as that of Grand Ayatollah Montazeri, to continue their political activity freely. Ultimately sentenced to five years of incarceration, Nouri refused to write a letter of "repentance" to Ayatollah Ali Khamenei that would have led to the reduction or commutation of his sentence.

Barred by the Guardian Council from competing in the elections for the Sixth Majles in February-March 2000, his brother, Dr. Ali Reza Nouri, a physician, ran in his stead. He received 1,343,000 votes -- the third highest tally in Tehran, which many saw as a popular protest against his brother's trial and conviction. After Ali Reza Nouri was killed in a car accident in 2002, Khamenei ordered Abdollah Nouri's release from prison. He was largely silent in public for more than half a decade, but over the past three years, since almost all the important figures within the reformist/Green camp have been imprisoned or placed under severely restrictive house arrest, he has once again become very active.

***

During the meeting on Wednesday, Nouri told the group,

Iran's strategy regarding this issue must be realistic, based on consideration of national interests, and devoid of emotional responses. The views of the experts on addressing the difficult problems must be sought out....

Merely criticizing the bias of great powers does not solve any problem, as one cannot expect anything of them other than protecting their interests and expanding their power. The deciding factors in international relations are power and national interests, and in their efforts to achieve their interests, governments are not committed to morality and, if necessary, resort to deceit. Thus, any government must take this principle into account in its relation with other governments.

Many academics believe that the Star Wars [ballistic missile shield] project was designed to ruin the Soviet Union, to force it to enter an unequal competition with the United States...and to invest most of its material and moral resources in a competition that had been designed by its archrival, which had no consequence for the Soviet Union other than backwardness and collapse....

Have we ever thought that the approach of the West to [Iran's] nuclear program is similarly a trap to hurt Iran? If so, our decision making and strategy must aim at saving the country, not sacrificing all of our national interests for the nuclear program. Having access to peaceful nuclear energy and all of its technology and science in the framework of international agreements is our fundamental right. But we must not underestimate the [resulting] difficulties for the people's lives, and allow one issue, although very important, to threaten all of our national interests.

According to some reports, compared with several months ago, Iran has lost about one quarter of its earning from oil exports. And with the oil sanctions intensifying and earnings from oil exports falling further, Iran will lose a very significant source of its income.

It should be clear that, under such conditions, a large, populous country like Iran will be seriously hurt in terms of its infrastructure and other aspects of its development; given the highly important role of the oil earnings in the national budget, Iran will experience very significant budget deficits. If that happens, every sector, from manufacturing, production and people's livelihood, to health, education, building infrastructure, and ultimately even defense and security will be hurt. Thus, if we can prevent the loss of billions of dollars and through expert planning save the national economy from bankruptcy and people's lives, why should we not do it?

Nouri emphasized that crucial decisions must be made in timely fashion, telling his visitors, "If a right decision is made late, it will not be effective, and even if it is effective, one cannot ignore the damage of postponing making the decision. We have repeatedly faced very complex and critical situations in the past, and to prevent further damage we changed our path; otherwise we would have suffered even more damage." He then mentioned several examples:

Regarding the issue of the United States Embassy [hostage crisis], considering its consequences and damages, the decision was made to resolve the issue diplomatically. In the eight-year war [with Iraq, despite] the patriotic slogans of that era, such as "War, war, until victory," "The road to Jerusalem passes through Karbala," and "War, war until elimination of the sedition," when the experts said that continuing the war would inflict more damage than could ever be rectified, the end of the war and the acceptance of [United Nations Security Council (UNSC)] Resolution 598 were announced [in July 1988].

In 1987, due to the murder of many Iranian pilgrims in Saudi Arabia and the pain that caused to millions of Iranians, our relations with that country deteriorated very badly. It was said that even if we could forgive Saddam Hussein, we could not forgive the al-Saud dynasty of Saudi Arabia, but after a few years it was recognized that prolonging that situation bore no benefits for Iran, and thus the decision was made to resolve the issues and reestablish relations. Similarly, nowadays the damage and losses and pressure due to Iran's nuclear program have far exceeded any tolerable limit, and the government must make a wise decision to protect the vital interests of the nation and exit the present impasse. If we are to lose our other rights over our nuclear rights, which are our fundamental rights, we must rethink the principles [behind the program] and its consequences.

He then turned again to the matter of reaching the right decision as soon as possible:

Making a decision at the right time always has the utmost importance. If the time passed, and the same decision [that should have been made earlier] was made, important opportunities would be lost, and perhaps the same results could not be obtained. The society may suffer a shock, similar to the shock due to the sudden dramatic increase in the currency exchange rates. Regarding our oil exports, it is not clear that if we lose the buyers of our oil that they will again purchase our oil, even if we accept the UNSC resolutions and the West's conditions [for the nuclear program].

Nouri underscored the importance of the experts' views:

Regarding the nuclear issue and making the most appropriate decision under the current circumstances of the country, it is necessary to seek out the views of political scientists, experts on international relations, economists, political figures, and all other experts whose hearts beat for Iran. I believe that if we also ask the views of the political prisoners, it would represent an important step toward unifying the nation. Moreover, as Imam Ali told Malik al-Ashtar, decision making [by the rulers] must be based on popular support. The Constitution also allows holding referenda to decide critical issues. First, the experts should explain to the people the negatives and positives of continuing the current confrontation with the West regarding the nuclear issue and the limitations that will result from it; then the people declare their final verdict regarding the current standoff between Iran and the West.

Nouri concluded,

Anyone who does not underestimate one's competitor or enemy, and prepares oneself based on a correct evaluation of one's own power and abilities may be victorious in the confrontation. One cannot defeat the enemy or competitor through illusions and unwise stubbornness. One must be realistic in evaluating one's own opportunities and capabilities, as well as the power and authority of the other side, and avoid extremism. One must evaluate correctly the strengths and weaknesses of the opposite side, even if it is a powerful animal in the desert, and take action to confront it to save one's life, not fall in the trap set by the animal.

In 2007, Nobel Peace Prize laureate Shirin Ebadi suggested that a national referendum over the nuclear issue be held, for which she was fiercely attacked by the hardliners. This is the first time that a prominent figure such as Nouri, who is respected not only by the opposition but also by many conservatives in the ruling elite, has made such a proposal. If such a referendum were held under conditions in which both the opponents and proponents of the nuclear program could freely express their views to the nation, it could provide a way out of the current impasse. In that case, if the people decide to continue to resist the pressure from the West, it will be based on a much fuller and more engaged understanding of the consequences of their decision.

Copyright © 2012 Tehran Bureau

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