Iran's Murky Election Run-Up

Tehran, IRAN:  An Iranian policeman stands guard in front of the gate of the Danish embassy in Tehran during a demonstration
Tehran, IRAN: An Iranian policeman stands guard in front of the gate of the Danish embassy in Tehran during a demonstration 20 February 2006 against the publication of cartoons depicting the Prophet Mohammed in European newspapers. Iranian security forces have been told to 'do their best' to prevent violent attacks against foreign embassies, the Islamic republic's interior minister was quoted as saying two days ago. Recent weeks have seen a string of officially-sanctioned and destructive protests outside several European embassies in a display of anger over the publication of the cartoons, deemed by Muslims as blasphemous. AFP PHOTO/HENGHAMEH FAHIMI (Photo credit should read HENGHAMEH FAHIMI/AFP/Getty Images)

The recent admission by Iran's Intelligence Ministry that it believes media working inside the country are spies for the U.S. and British government is troubling news indeed.

Reporters Without Borders has vehemently condemned the current wave of arrests inside Tehran, in which over a dozen journalists, netizens, and members of literary associations and contributors to monthlies were snatched from the streets and brought to detention centers on charges of espionage. During interrogations, authorities warned them not to undertake any activities in connection with the upcoming June presidential election. Reporters without Borders has stated that the arrests may be designed to silence any criticism of corruption and electoral fraud. A repeat perhaps of the 2009 elections, in which Mahmoud Ahmadinejad won a second term due to murky and suspicious counting methods at voting booths.

A total of 58 journalists and netizens are currently detained in Iran. The country is one of the world's largest prisons for journalists.

The Iranian intelligence ministry has so far accused all foreign-based media broadcasting in Farsi, including the BBC and Voice of America of being paid by foreign intelligence agencies to wage "psychological warfare." It seems an odd accusation considering that the government is currently waging its own form of psychological warfare on Iranian citizens and in particular journalists. The government also went so far as to unfairly accuse the neutral and independent Ahmed Shaheed, the UN Special Rapporteur for Human Rights in Iran, of working to further a U.S. and European agenda.

The recent International Atomic Agency Report (IAEA) report this week also chronicles a further step in a dangerous direction by Iran. The Agency provided substantial evidence of new installations of generation centrifuges, which constitute another and deeper violation by Iran of its international obligations.

Meanwhile, the Iranian ambassador to the UN, Mohammad Khazaee, was all smiles and giggles at his first-time appearance at the Asia Society this past week alongside two Americans, one of whom is a former U.S. Ambassador. Referring to Iran's membership of the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), Khazaee urged Americans to respect and better negotiate with the Tehran government. "My way or the highway, won't work. Iran has never and does not oppose negotiation. If right conditions are created then undoubtedly we will consider them seriously with mutual respect and non intervention."

What was supposed to be an "unprecedented" conversation between Iran and the U.S. was nothing more than a nauseating series of polite gestures.

He cited America's need to meddle in the "domestic affairs of Iran" as one of the main problems between the two countries -- an obvious reference to U.S. criticism of Iran's human rights policy. It was a very odd statement by the ambassador considering he represents his country at the United Nations, an international body which seeks to prevent countries from violating international human rights conventions set up to protect civilians from draconian government actions.

Admittedly, Iran has signed on to the NPT. But should this gesture distract us from Iran's startling numbers of annual executions (the largest worldwide), the hangings of same-sex couples, and the biased divorce courts that rip children away from their mothers?

In their latest book, Going to Tehran: Why the United States Must Come to Terms with the Islamic Republic of Iran, two Americans, Flynt and Hillary Mann Leverett, schooled in all things Iranian, ask us to consider Iran as the most important country in the region. They hold that, contrary to what Iranian-American folks like me seem to be telling Western media, the Iranian state is not on the verge of crumbling and that most Iranians like the Islamic Republic. Moreover, they argue that if the U.S. doesn't take a more conciliatory approach to Iran, it may lose its standing throughout the Middle East.

But it is hard to see the Iranians as true and transparent when negotiation after negotiation--even with the neutral bodies like the IAEA, keep failing. And it's not America's fault that Iran tortures its own citizens and muzzles its press. The government has to look internally and at some point, needs to stop blaming the media and its western influences. Domestic affairs inside Iran, Mr. Khazaee, are standing in the way of the mutually respectful international relations that you claim to desire. How can any country that sees flogging as a normal retribution for free expression ever gain the respect you ask for?

I hope the coming weeks leading up to the election will not witness the bloodshed and riots on the streets of Tehran like in 2009. I hope the Obama Administration acts swiftly to finally work out the negotiations that have failed so many times before.