Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Bianca Jagger seeks to kindle US-Iran dialogue - Yahoo! News

Bianca Jagger seeks to kindle US-Iran dialogue - Yahoo! News: "Bianca Jagger seeks to kindle US-Iran dialogue By Christian Oliver

TEHRAN (Reuters) - Back in 1968 Mick Jagger had plenty of "Sympathy for the Devil," but his first wife Bianca is far more critical of "The Great Satan" and fears U.S. unwillingness to talk to Iran could lead to conflict.

Rights campaigner Jagger, the Council of Europe's goodwill ambassador, has traveled to Iran with a group called "U.S. Academics for Peace," seeking to ensure the Islamic Republic does not become the next Iraq.

The group argues the mudslinging rhetoric branding the United States as "The Great Satan" and Iran as part of the "axis of evil" is one of the first things that has to stop.

Jagger admitted it was difficult to juggle criticism of U.S. policy toward Iran with the need to hold Tehran to account on its human rights record.

"I have to walk a very narrow line. On the one hand we have to condemn illegal war, regime change and pre-emptive strikes," she told Reuters in an interview.

She feared the United States could launch strikes against Iran, which it accuses of developing nuclear warheads and sponsoring anti-Israeli militia. Tehran denies the charges.

"At the same time I must discuss human rights issues such as the death penalty, women's rights and civil liberties."

Iran has a dismal human rights record and rights groups accuse it of hanging juveniles, imprisoning dissidents, closing newspapers and discrimination against ethnic and religious minorities.

She will meet people such as rights lawyers and former President Mohammad Khatami to work out ways in which Iran and the United States can speak to each other directly.

The United States and Iran severed relations in the aftermath of the 1979 Islamic revolution when radical students stormed the U.S. embassy and held 52 Americans hostage for 444 days.

WHAT CAN BE DONE?

Starting a dialogue to prevent conflict would be hard.

"We are just grains of sand in the desert," she said. "But it is so important for academics to meet academics and people to meet people, it is the only way to move beyond stereotypes," said the Nicaragua-born former jet-setter. But she doubted the political appetite for rapprochement.

"If (U.S. President) George W. Bush were interested in finding a solution with Iran he would send (Secretary of State) Condoleezza Rice tomorrow," she said.

Dialogue would have to start at a popular level in which groups such as the one she was traveling with would chip away at the White House agenda little by little, starting with college campus newspapers and the mass media.

Although Jim Jennings, the retired Middle East studies professor heading the group, was pessimistic a conflict with Iran could be avoided, he still believed in the importance of popular resistance to war.

"I like to go back to Aristophanes and his hero Dicaeopolis," he said, referring to an ancient Greek play in which an Athenian farmer gets fed up with an intractable war with Sparta and draws up his own personal peace treaty.

Jennings' group traveled to Iraq with Jagger just before the 2003 invasion, representing 33,000 U.S. academics who signed an anti-war petition.

Jagger felt there was a little more hope in Iran: "Iraq was a fait accompli.""