Saturday, July 22, 2006

Iranian opposition divisions mar visit to White House

Eli Lake, NY Post-- A planned meeting in the White House of Iran's opposition fell short of expectations yesterday as a rift among the factions emerged. While two senior Bush administration officials met with 30 Iranian activists and academics to discuss the future of Iran, the son of the late shah, Reza Pahlavi, and Iran's leading dissident, Akbar Ganji, who is touring America this month, did not attend.

The meeting with the Iranian opposition groups — hosted by a senior National Security Council aid, Elliot Abrams, and Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns — is significant in light of Iran's role in the recent war between Israel and Hezbollah. Following the militia's cross-border raid of July 12, President Bush blamed Iran and Syria, suggesting that the two states, which have supported terrorists in Iraq, were conspiring to plunge the region into a wider war.

A unified Iranian opposition would pose an existential threat to Iran's ruling mullahs in a way that limited airstrikes on the country's nuclear facilities would not. But White House efforts to organize such an opposition may be doomed to fail. Mr. Ganji — who has drafted a two-part manifesto outlining a theory and plan for Iranian civil disobedience — told the Sun before he landed in America that he has no plans to meet with American officials unless they give him the opportunity to plead for America not to bomb Iran's nuclear installations.

"The quality of the people invited differed widely.I am not referring to the political affiliation, but their gravitas. Many people were invited at the last minute and were not told what the meeting was about and who else was there," the main organizer of this spring's London conference for a constitutional referendum in Iran, Fred Saberi, said in an interview from Stockholm, Sweden. Mr. Saberi, who has been an intermediary between Iran's student opposition movement and Western governments, said one of the main concerns of some of those who declined the invitation, such as the Revolutionary Guard founder and former political prisoner, Mohsen Sazegara, was working with supporters of the former shah's son. Mr. Ganji has said in Persian interviews that he would avoid working with Mr. Pahlavi. Messrs. Pahlavi and Ganji have been two of the loudest voices calling for nonviolent means to achieve regime change in Iran.

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Update: Akbar Ganji tells VOA he wasn't invited to this gathering.