Code Pink Activists Blaze the Trail for Obama's 'No Preconditions'
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In an effort to establish peaceful diplomacy with the government and people of Iran, and to model for the new Obama administration the power of cooperative good will, three highly regarded American peace makers have ventured to Iran. Codepink cofounders, Jodie Evans and Medea Benjamin, along with former Army Colonel and decorated Foreign Service Diplomat Ann Wright, are visiting Iran on visas coordinated by the Fellowship Of Reconciliation, which similarly organized the September 24th meeting in New York City between civilian leaders of the American peace movement and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
In that historic citizen diplomacy gathering, Iranian President Ahmadinejad met with approximately 120 representatives from American peace and social justice organizations, where over the course of two hours, he took unfiltered questions from the groups. The question from the women of Codepink, who travel extensively on missions of peace, addressed why the organization's founders were repeatedly denied visas to Iran. Ahmadinejad offered to remedy the situation. Thanks to the efforts of the Fellowship of Reconciliation, working in consort with the government of Iran, visas to Iran were issued on Monday to Benjamin, Evans and Wright. Seventy-two hours later, these intrepid citizen diplomats were packed and on their way.
I caught up with Evans yesterday on her stop-over in Frankfurt and asked her to explain the intent of her mission. She replied:
"We're traveling to Iran to strengthen our connections with as many groups as possible in the areas of government, culture, education, women and, of course, peace. We've come to deepen our work as citizen diplomats to model the type of diplomacy we hope to see from our new government."
With the Bush administration's unrepentant militarism over the past eight years, preferring destruction over discussion and war over words, and with Bush refusing to meet with his contrived opponents unless antagonistic preconditions were met, it's fallen upon citizen diplomats to pursue and model the adult diplomacy this nation needs.
For the past three years, Medea Benjamin, author and internationally recognized human rights advocate with Masters Degrees in Economics and Public Health, has been denied travel to Iran -- even though Global Exchange, the San Francisco-based global justice organization she founded with husband, Dr. Kevin Danaher, has sent groups to Iran every year. With the Bush administration soon to exit and the Obama administration coming in, Benjamin has new hope for more conciliatory relations between the United States and other nations. When I asked Benjamin about the purpose of this mission, she wrote the following from Iran:
We hope the Obama administration will begin direct talks with Iran -- without preconditions. On this visit to Iran, we are modeling the policy we would like to see. We're meeting with pro- and anti-government groups. With religious and secular people. With environmentalists, women's groups -- a wide swath of the Iranian people. We hope to take their messages back to the US, and find creative ways to expand people-to-people ties. Our motto is "Let's talk!" which has tremendous resonance among Iranians, who are all anxious to promote dialogue and avoid war.
Indeed, Codepink's current campaign, directed at President-elect Obama, is simply called " Let's talk!" It's a wide-ranging invitation to the incoming President to be all-communicative and all-inclusive. It calls upon Mr. Obama to be the great communicator he's capable of being and to use his formidable skills to dialogue with all the world's leaders, absent the egocentric preconditions of his predecessor. Let's talk!" is similarly a resounding invitation to the President-elect to meet with the individual members of peace and social justice organizations who worked so hard to elect him. It calls upon Mr. Obama to show these American patriots, who like him, opposed the Iraq war from the start, the same respect they were shown by the President of Iran who gave them his time and took their unfiltered questions."Let's talk!" invites Mr. Obama to be The People's President and take the opposite tack of his predecessor who not only refused to meet with anti-war patriots, but scorned their love of country.