Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

The Other Middle East Frontline ; Iran's Restless Youths Want Rights as Well as Jobs

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

The Other Middle East Frontline ; Iran's Restless Youths Want Rights as Well as Jobs

Article excerpt

With the US and Europe fixated on Iraq, where insurgents are trying to stop the masses from adopting democracy, next door in Iran a parallel struggle for democracy remains largely unnoticed. It shouldn't, especially given the West's concern over Iran's nuclear ambitions.

Young Iranians, who make up more than half the population and are restless from massive unemployment, have been pushing for Western- style political and social reforms for nearly a decade. But they've been losing ground to the conservative ruling clerics, especially over the last year, and need discreet international support.

The West has an imminent opportunity to assist them. On Jan. 12, a fresh round of talks will be launched between Iran and a trio of leading European nations. The goal is to strike a grand bargain: In return for a host of economic benefits, Iran will guarantee that its nuclear-power program will not be used to develop nuclear weapons.

Powder keg under the clerics

Why are the ruling mullahs even negotiating? They know that they must create jobs soon if they want to prevent the youths' restlessness from erupting into a rebellion. That gives them an incentive to provide guarantees for cooperating on nuclear issues.

But Western countries, rightly concerned about Iran's nuclear ambitions, should not be content to open their markets and offer other benefits in exchange for security assurances alone. A more fundamental concern must also be addressed: Iran's human rights record.

A government that rules its people with arbitrary interpretations of law and restricts civic freedoms when they interfere with its agenda is unlikely to make a reliable diplomatic partner. Case in point: Iran reneged on previous nuclear agreements.

Thus, in these coming negotiations, the three European Union nations - Britain, France, and Germany - should more strongly insist that improved human rights and basic liberties be part of any final deal.

The struggle for democracy in Iran has reached a critical stage. It's been a quarter century since the Islamic Revolution of 1979 replaced an autocratic secular leader with a cleric-controlled, limited democracy. Under this government, all was (and is) subject to approval by unelected ruling clerics. …

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