In rapid-fire Farsi, the voices emanated from mounted black speakers on either end of the conference room. Radio Sedaye Iran, a Los AngelesÐbased shortwave station that broadcasts antiÐIranian regime political programs and music into Iran, last week carried an unusual two-hour block. This time, its Thursday-night Iranian audience was talking back. And they had strong words about the need to remove their country's Islamic theocracy.
The Dec. 3 program was held at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington and gave Iranians opposed to their government an opportunity to air their views to American listeners. A panel of four Iranian-American dissidents on site led the way, while pre-selected opposition activists inside Iran called into Washington to join in. The real names of those inside Iran remained secret for their protection, with almost all identifying themselves only by occupation.
Answering set questions about democracy in Iran and the role of the United States, the activists were united on one front: The ideological Islamic regime in Tehran is beyond reform. "Reform in Iran has died," one female caller said, pointing to the lack of change in the last six years under President Mohammed Khatami. Other callers castigated the United States and Europe for believing that supporting Iran's opposition would undermine supposed reformers in the government. Panelist Ramin Parham agreed, explaining the foundation of the Islamic government: "They believe whatever they do and whatever they say is from God," said the Iranian molecular biochemist.
The activists inside Iran called for the United States to stop dealing with the governing mullahs and support the opposition, saying American policy appears double-minded. "We expect the Americans not to support an Islamic government," one housewife said. "In the past the rights of the people have not been considered and we are asking for a boycott of the regime."
Mr. Parham told WORLD Iranians are looking for support in the form of satellite, radio, and television technology that will help pump in opposition viewpoints-and equipment that will unscramble the independent signals entering Iran that the government jams.
But the United States has been treading lightly in trying to halt a possible nuclear-weapons program in Iran. Late last month, U.S. officials backed off a demand that the International Atomic Energy Agency refer Iran to the UN Security Council for breaching nuclear agreements. Other member countries did not want to extinguish Iran's offers to give up enriching uranium and allow spot inspections of nuclear facilities, and the United States finally agreed to a compromise resolution.
The IAEA will make another report on Iran's compliance with inspections in February, but failure to comply will only trigger an additional immediate review by the agency's board. "It goes nowhere," said Aryo Pirouznia, another panelist who has helped organize student movements in Iran. "The Islamic Republic has always failed in its promises." In the meantime, activists inside Iran said the head of the Supreme National Security Council, Hassan Rowhani, is hailing the IAEA resolution as an Iranian diplomatic victory. As one caller put it: "Rowhani started making fun of the United States."