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Filmmaker: Sanctions on Iran insufficient

Iranian filmmaker and dissident Mohsen Makhmalbaf said Thursday that the Obama administration should speak out more about human rights in his country and tailor new sanctions to hurt Iran's Revolutionary Guards and foreign companies that provide technology and equipment used to crack down on dissent.

Mr. Makhmalbaf, 52, who has become a spokesman outside Iran for the so-called Green Movement since the country's disputed June 12 presidential election, spoke as the United States and five other world powers prepared to meet Friday in Brussels to discuss the apparent collapse of a nuclear deal.

Under the deal, which Iranian negotiators initially approved, Tehran would send to Russia most of its partially processed uranium. The material would be processed further and sent back to Iran as fuel rods for a reactor that produces medical isotopes.

After weeks of contradictory statements from various officials, Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said Wednesday that Iran would not send uranium out of the country.

U.S. and European officials have said Iran has until the end of the year to reach an agreement or face new punishment.

Before postelection protests erupted, many Iranian dissidents opposed new sanctions, arguing that the government would use them to rally support. With the government crackdown on dissent, that attitude appears to have changed.

"Inevitably, you are going to put [new] sanctions on Iran," Mr. Makhmalbaf told a small group of Iran specialists and journalists in Washington. He said the U.S. should "let the Iranian people know why you are going to sanction and what the targets are so they can support you."

He rejected proposed U.S. legislation that would target gasoline imports to Iran, saying that would hurt average people. He said it was better to focus on the Revolutionary Guards, who have been at the forefront of repressing demonstrations and who have taken control of considerable elements of the Iranian economy.

The U.S. already has substantial sanctions prohibiting business dealings with the Guards and travel by their leaders.

Mr. Makhmalbaf said the U.S. and other major countries should also go after companies such as Nokia and Siemens, which have sold the Iranian government equipment that can be used to track e-mails and tap phones of political opponents.

The Washington Times reported in April that a joint venture between the Finnish cell-phone giant Nokia and German powerhouse Siemens delivered what is known as a monitoring center to Iran's state-owned telecommunications company last year.

Karim Sadjadpour, an Iran specialist at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said that the Revolutionary Guards had recently acquired 51 percent of the telecommunications company in its efforts to monitor dissidents more closely.

Mr. Makhmalbaf said other targets of sanctions should be companies that sell Iran tear gas and "instruments for torturing people."

Although public protests in Iran have ebbed since massive street demonstrations in the summer, Mr. Makhmalbaf said the movement is strong and growing.

"We can hear the rumbling of the Iranian people and there will be an explosion," he said. "People were frightened but now they have passed that stage."

He said the United States could help by speaking out in favor of human rights and urged President Obama to do so personally or risk losing the popular support he has in Iran.

"Obama has to talk about Neda again," Mr. Makhmalbaf said, referring to Neda Agha-Soltan, the young Iranian woman who has become the face of the opposition since her shooting death during demonstrations June 20 was captured on a cell phone and the video sent around the world.

He said the U.S. president should go further and acknowledge the differences between the government and the opposition, which is willing to renounce nuclear weapons and has apologized for actions such as the seizure of U.S. hostages in 1979.

Mr. Makhmalbaf lives in Paris and is perhaps best known for his 2001 movie, "Kandahar," about an Afghan emigre who returns home to try to keep her sister from committing suicide during the repressive rule of the Taliban. These days, he says, he has no time to make films.

A participant in Iran's 1978-79 Islamic Revolution who spent more than four years in prison during the reign of the late Shah, Mr. Makhmalbaf said the current opposition movement is different.

"Thirty years ago, we knew what we didn't want but not what we wanted," he said. "Now we know what we want."

About the Author
Barbara Slavin

Barbara Slavin

Barbara Slavin is assistant managing editor for World and National Security at The Washington Times and the author of a 2007 book on Iran, titled “Bitter Friends, Bosom Enemies: Iran, the U.S. and the Twisted Path to Confrontation.” Before joining The Times in July 2008, she was senior diplomatic reporter for USA Today. She has accompanied three secretaries of state ...

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