“UNITED NATIONS — The Obama administration’s recent overtures to regimes with blemished records on human rights and democracy have potential long-term rewards but must first endure shorter-term risks, according to policy experts, leaders and activists.
Washington’s outreach to nations such as Iran and Myanmar — on display here this week — could leave the administration open to criticism that it is naïve or soft, while appearing to sideline human-rights concerns and legitimize uncooperative governments, they said.
“With constructive engagement…what you find is countries going for construction projects and no engagement,” said Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim, in an interview in New York on Thursday. Mr. Anwar said “constructive intervention” was required…
Some Republicans and democracy advocates have criticized the Obama administration for increasing engagement with nations that have been accused of human-rights abuses, particularly China, Russia and Iran.
U.S. officials have defended outreach to those countries as part of an effort to achieve broad national-security goals: in Russia and Iran, preventing the spread of nuclear weapons; in China, shoring up the global economy and curtailing global warming…
The approach emerging under the Obama administration — combining the threat of sanctions with renewed engagement — has been used effectively in various forms over the decades, from Apartheid-era South Africa to Communist Poland…
In South Korea and Japan, concerns that North Korea’s demand for talks with the U.S. could lead to a softening — and compromise their security — has dominated headlines and talk shows for several weeks.
A big risk of reaching out to leaders of repressive regimes is that it legitimizes their leaders, while undermining moderate or opposition elements. Ms. Suu Kyi on Thursday insisted that pro-democracy forces be part of the engagement process, her spokesman told the Associated Press.
In Iran, activists worry that if the U.S. and the West engage Iran over its controversial nuclear program, opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi and his supporters will be marginalized and compromises will be made on human-rights matters.
Mr. Obama has condemned the regime’s harsh crackdowns on opposition supporters but at the same time refrained from making human-rights issues such as the release of the American-Iranian scholar Kian Tajbakhsh a condition for talks.
Akbar Ganji, a prominent dissident and former journalist who was jailed in Iran and then fled to New York, says human rights should be the primary focus and condition for talks.
“We are very worried that if the U.S. sits down to negotiate with Iran they will only address the nuclear program for their own political gains and forget about human rights. Then the people of Iran will feel abandoned by the international community and lose hope,” Mr. Ganji said.
Others argue the U.S. will be more effective if it has an open channel for dialogue with Iran. “Then the U.S. has an active mechanism to put pressure on Iran’s government,” said Omid Memarian of Human Rights Watch.”