Arkansas Online: Houshang Nazarali and a dozen other Arkansans rallied on Capitol Hill Tuesday for the United States to take a tougher stand against Iran and prevent the Muslim theocracy from obtaining nuclear weapons. Arkansas Online
By Alex Daniels
WASHINGTON – Houshang Nazarali and a dozen other Arkansans rallied on Capitol Hill Tuesday for the United States to take a tougher stand against Iran and prevent the Muslim theocracy from obtaining nuclear weapons.
Nazarali, who owns a convenience store in Madison County, has been hoping to see the end of the current Iranian regime for years.
Several U.S. policy experts lent their support, including former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, 9/11 Commission Vice Chairman Lee Hamilton and President Barack Obama’s former national security adviser James Jones.
“This is a dictatorship with which you will never make an agreement,” Gingrich told a crowd of about 250 people who were gathered at a lunch to celebrate Nowrouz, the Persian New Year. “They march to a different drummer. They don’t care what we think.”
Hamilton said it was unclear how soon Iran will be capable of manufacturing a nuclear weapon, calling the country a “hard intelligence target.”
He said the United States should continue to enforce trade sanctions on the Iranians and attempt to solve differences through diplomacy, but the use of military force needed to be considered.
“There’s not much reason for optimism,” he said.
Nazarali, who emigrated from Iran in 1977, said he was disappointed that the Obama administration has continued to pursue negotiations and economic sanctions with the Iranians, instead of pursuing tougher measures.
“I’d like to see the U.S. government put regime change on the table,” he said. “That’s the only way to go.”
For nearly a decade, Nazarali has traveled regularly from Northwest Arkansas to Washington, D.C., to push for recognition of the Mujahedeen-e-Khalq (MEK), a group of Iranians in exile who want to overthrow the Islamic Republic of Iran.
Until September 2012, when then Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton lifted the designation, the United States considered MEK a terrorist group.
Former U.S. Rep. Patrick Kennedy, D-Mass., a longtime supporter of the MEK, roused the crowd who gathered in a Senate caucus room named for his famous uncles, President John F. Kennedy and Sen. Robert Kennedy, and for his father, Sen. Edward Kennedy.
“Man Irani Hastam,” he said in Farsi, and the Iranian exiles jumped to their feet and applauded, recognizing the phrase “I am an Iranian,” a riff on John F. Kennedy’s famous 1963 declaration of support for the people living under communist rule in Berlin: “Ich bin ein Berliner.”
The Iranian expatriates gathered in Washington said they were frustrated that the United States has not intervened to halt Iraqi attacks on Camp Liberty, a former American military installation where the Iraqi government has detained a group of Iranian nationals because they were working to overthrow the Iranian government.
Jones said the prison should be more accurately called “Camp Shame.”
Arkansas Republican Rep. Tom Cotton from Dardanelle took to the floor of the House on March 6 to protest attacks at Camp Liberty.
In an interview Tuesday, Cotton said sanctions against Iran have worked to some extent, but he said only the “credible” threat of force will persuade Iran to give up its nuclear program, which the country insists is for energy production and not weapons.
In 1979, a month before the Iranian revolution, one of Tuesday’s visitors to Washington came to Fayetteville to study mechanical engineering at the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville. Then 17, he figured he would take classes for a few semesters in Arkansas and then return to Tehran. He has not set foot on Iranian soil since.
From afar, he watched people who resisted the new regime get killed. The victims included a brother, his sister-in-law and brother-in-law.
“The Iranian government has no regard for life,” said the man, a Little Rock businessman whose other brother is attempting to immigrate to the United States. He spoke on the condition that his name not be used because he fears the Iranian government will retaliate against his brother.