“CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN ANCHOR: Tonight, U.S. President Barack Obama accepts the Nobel Peace Prize, and he says America is bearing witness to the global struggle for rights and justice, including inside Iran. But are those words enough? …
The government’s efforts to stop images of those demonstrations from reaching the rest of the world failed, as you can see from these pictures that emerged via the Internet. Authorities also tried to prevent foreign news organizations from covering the protests, sending SMS messages to their cell phones, telling them that they could not be on the streets for several days this week, but the world still watches.
During his Nobel lecture in Norway, President Obama raised the plight of the protestors, even as he walked the fine line of trying to engage with the very government that is cracking down on them.
And joining me now, the Wall Street Journal’s Farnaz Fassihi. She’s been tracking evidence of Iranian authorities trying to intimidate Iranians even abroad, and John Limbert, the deputy assistant secretary for Iran at the U.S. State Department, and Iranian artist, Shirin Neshat, who won the Silver Lion Award at the Venice Film Festival for her film “Women without Men” and who’s become a voice of protest outside Iran…
AMANPOUR: So the president clearly there said, “They have us on their side.” What does that mean, John Limbert, if the United States is declaring that it’s on the side of the people there?
LIMBERT: It’s very clear, Christiane. We will not sit silently. We will not ignore what happens on the streets of Tehran. And we believe, as we have always believed, that the Iranian people deserve decent treatment from their government.
AMANPOUR: And you say you won’t sit silently, but at the same time, obviously, there are diplomatic negotiations that have go on, most particularly over the nuclear clock. There’s the possibility of sanctions going on. How do you walk that line of engagement and being on the side of the legitimate aspirations of the people?
LIMBERT: No, of course. That’s — that’s a good question. I think, Christiane, our diplomacy is good enough that we can do both, that we can make clear statements of support for the aspirations of the Iranian people for decent treatment from their government. At the same time, we can certainly talk with the government and the authorities there about things like the nuclear issue or Iraq or Afghanistan or — or other issues. And we have clearly offered to do so, and we are determined to do so in an atmosphere of mutual respect.
AMANPOUR: Let me turn to Shirin Neshat, not only an acclaimed artist, but also now a public voice for those protestors who are inside Iran. Do you believe that the world is paying sufficient attention and their human rights and legitimate aspirations are being embraced by the West?
SHIRIN NESHAT, FILMMAKER AND ARTIST: Christiane, let me tell you how it looks on our side. I feel that the students in Iran, the people of Iran, and the people of Iran outside of Iran are setting a great example of people who are truly fighting for democracy. And this creates a sense of hope for the rest of the region, the entire world, but we don’t feel that we have the sufficient support or the protection that is necessary.
And I think many Iranians inside and outside feel that they’ve been betrayed, particularly…
NESHAT: … with this emphasis on the nuclear weapon issue. It has distracted the world from paying attention to the atrocity that is taking place today in Iran. All of us are at risk, and we’re particularly — a lot of us are American citizens, as well, several in prison. We don’t see much support on this government showing direct action to help them out. And — and I think this is really a disappointment on Iranian side.
AMANPOUR: Let me press you, Mr. Limbert. Shirin raises the issue of Americans who are currently in jail in Iran. What is the government doing? And do you have any indication that they’re going to be — they’re going to be released, for instance, the three hikers?
LIMBERT: Well, I would like to see them released as soon as possible. We all would like them to be. This has — this has been very unfortunate. Our hearts go out to these innocent people who clearly wandered across an unmarked border and have been in custody for much — for much too long. We are pursuing all available avenues.
I should note that — that our protecting power in Tehran, the — represented by the Swiss embassy, has been able to visit these people. We are pressing for more visits. We are pressing for better treatment. And, of course, we are pressing for release as soon as possible…
NESHAT: …I think that, particularly these last few days, as the anniversary of the student movement comes, we realize that Iranian people have been fighting for democracy and freedom for over 150 years. And — and — and also, the women of Iran have been also fighting for idea of democracy and equality. So how odd that this struggle continues today with such similarity and force.
And I — can I just make one second comment that the issue of the American passport does not only belong to the American-born, but the Iranian-born, who are also holding American citizenship, including Kian Tajbakhsh. So when I referred to the help and protection, it’s only not for those people who are born in this country, but those who are, you know, currently the citizen of United States…