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Embassy Row: Refugee camp is Iran and America’s shame

- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 21, 2013

Members of Congress and former diplomats Thursday invoked John F. Kennedy, the civil rights movement and Thanksgiving as they called on President Obama to keep America's promise to protect Iranian dissidents languishing in an Iraqi refugee camp.

They also urged Secretary of State John F. Kerry to reject any deal with Iran that fails to stop its suspected nuclear weapons program, while Western negotiators were holding talks in Geneva with Iranian officials.

"This is a humanitarian crisis that calls out for resolution," Marc Ginsberg, U.S. ambassador to Morocco under President Bill Clinton, told Iranian-Americans gathered at the Cannon House Office Building.

Mr. Ginsberg and the other speakers for years have championed the members of the National Council of Resistance of Iran and are calling on the U.S. to resettle 3,200 Iranians in Camp Liberty near Baghdad.

They also demanded that Mr. Obama persuade Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to release seven dissidents kidnapped in a Sept. 1 raid, in which gunmen killed 52 unarmed Iranians in Camp Ashraf, which was a refugee compound north of Baghdad.

Iraq's government has denied any involvement in the massacre, and the State Department insists it has no evidence of Iraqi responsibility.

Critics also accuse Iraq of acting as an agent of Iran, which has been trying for decades to crush the resistance.

Mr. Ginsberg, who also served as an aide to Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, noted that Friday marks the 50th anniversary of the John F. Kennedy assassination. He called the slain president a great champion of refugees. "Would that President Obama live up to President Kennedy's ideals," he said.

John R. Bolton, a U.N. ambassador under President George W. Bush, noted that the U.S. provided refugee protection to all of the dissidents but failed to honor its commitment.

"This is an embarrassment. This is a stain on the reputation of the United States," he said, calling on Congress to grant the dissidents political asylum and get them "out of the death trap they are in."

The crowd cheered when Rep. Brad Sherman, California Democrat, told them he was on his way to urge the White House to reject a "bad deal" with Iran. Mr. Sherman, a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, supports stronger sanctions against the Iranian regime and has praised existing punitive measures that have crippled the Iranian economy.

"Why did [Iranians] come to the table in the first place?" he asked. "What else do we have?"

Rep. Lynn A. Westmoreland, Georgia Republican, applauded French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius for blocking a weak deal with the Iranians.

"I can't believe I'm about to say this but, thank God for the French," said Mr. Westmoreland, a member of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence.

Rep. Ted Poe recalled that the dissidents have been attacked five times since 2009, when U.S. forces handed Iraq the responsibility to protect them.

"The fight is not over," the Texas Republican told the Iranian-Americans, who have friends and relatives among the dissidents. "It's not going away."

Invoking Thanksgiving, Rep. Dana Rohrabacher said Americans next week will gather with their families to count their blessings.

"If we are truly grateful we will help those who are struggling against injustice and tyranny," the California Republican added.

Rep. Danny K. Davis said that, as a veteran of the civil rights movement, he shares the Iranians' quest for justice.

"The road to freedom is often very long," the Illinois Democrat said. "I come from a people who know that. Struggle, struggle, struggle and pain are the prerequisites to change."

Embassy Row is published on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. James Morrison can be reached at jmorrison@washingtontimes.com or @EmbassyRow.

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