CodePink member Leslie Angeline recently staged a 24-day hunger strike to protest a possible U.S. attack on Iran. We speak to her and Ali Nasri, a representative of "Miles for Peace," a group of Iranian peace activists who are cycling around Europe and the United States to oppose a war on Iran. They both met Senator Lieberman last week to discuss his stance on Iran. [includes rush transcript]
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
AMY GOODMAN: Is the stage being set for a U.S. attack on Iran? The Guardian newspaper of London is reporting the balance in the internal White House debate over Iran has reportedly shifted in favor of military action before President Bush leaves office in 18 months.
The Guardian quotes what it calls a "well-placed source in Washington" as saying, "Bush is not going to leave office with Iran still in Limbo." The source also said Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney did not trust any potential successors in the White House, Republican or Democrat, to deal with Iran decisively.
Meanwhile, on Capitol Hill, the Democratic-led Senate unanimously passed a resolution last week sponsored by Independent Senator Joseph Lieberman to censure Iran for complicity in the killing of U.S. soldiers in Iraq. Lieberman opened debate on the measure by saying the Senate has a "choice between turning a blind eye to the murder of our troops and confronting those who are murdering them." The measure passed by a vote of 97 to zero.
Lieberman has been leading the case in the Senate in support of a possible U.S. military strike on Iran. Last month, in an interview on CBS’s Face the Nation, Lieberman said, "I think we’ve got to be prepared to take aggressive military action against the Iranians to stop them from killing Americans in Iraq."
Lieberman’s comments prompted one person to take action. Leslie Angeline, a member of the peace group CodePink, decided she would go on a hunger strike until Senator Lieberman agreed to meet with her. She went to his office every day to ask for a meeting. Every day she was refused. But she persisted. On the 22nd day of her hunger strike, Leslie was hauled out of Lieberman’s office in handcuffs after she refused to leave. A photo of Leslie getting arrested appeared the next day on the front page of the Capitol Hill paper, Roll Call. The next day, Senator Lieberman relented and granted Leslie a five-minute meeting for the following day under the condition she come alone and without press.
The next day, the 24th day of her fast, Leslie appeared in Lieberman’s office for the meeting. She wasn’t alone, though. She brought with her Ali Nasri, a young Iranian who happened to be in Washington, D.C., with a group of 13 Iranians cycling around the country for peace. The senator met with both of them in his office. Leslie Angeline and Ali Nasri now join us from Washington, D.C. We welcome you both to Democracy Now!
Leslie, let’s begin with you. Describe your meeting with the senator and all that led up to it. You fainted in his office in the midst of your fast?
LESLIE ANGELINE: Yes, I did. I was dehydrated, so I collapsed. I wasn’t drinking enough water; it was very hot in Washington.
AMY GOODMAN: Talk about the meeting that you had with him.
LESLIE ANGELINE: Well, I went in by myself at first, and I talked to him. I made two points. I wanted to talk to him about the fact that the rhetoric that he was using, the statements of attacking Iran actually is counterproductive. It causes the government to clamp down on the peace movement that’s growing in Iran. And the second point I made was that he used to be part of the SNCC in the civil right movement in the ’60s, and he worked for the humanity of the black man in the South. And I wanted him to work for diplomacy with the Iranian people. So those were the two things that I wanted to talk to him about.
I wanted to encourage him to go to Iran and see for himself. The Iranian people are wonderful. They’re very kind and generous. It’s a very young population. Seventy percent of the population is under the age of 30. They’re just children. They want a good life. And Lieberman actually said to Ali and I, he said the two countries in the Middle East that like Americans the most are Israel and Iran. And that came from Lieberman. So he knows that Iran is very friendly to Americans. They like Americans. And by making these statements of aggression and about war, he’s hurting the people who live there, the civil society that we want to reach out to the most.
AMY GOODMAN: You’ve been to Iran, Leslie?
LESLIE ANGELINE: I have. I just went in May, and I had the most amazing time. The people are so kind and generous. We fell in love with the Iranian people. I went with my boyfriend with the Global Exchange Citizen Diplomacy.
AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to play a clip of Senator Lieberman. He was speaking on ABC’s This Week with George Stephanopoulos. It was July 1st, and he was talking about Iraq. He was talking about Iran.
SEN. JOSEPH LIEBERMAN: I had an Arab diplomat say to me two weeks ago that what is happening in the Middle East today reminds him of what happened in Europe during the 1930s, when Nazi Germany began to make moves and the rest of Europe and the United States did not act quick enough to stop the Second World War. He was talking about Iran. Iran is on the move in Iraq, Lebanon, Palestine and Afghanistan. And if we pull out of Iraq, Iran and al-Qaeda are the victors. And so, my answer is, as long as we have a reasonable chance of success in Iraq, then I am going to say it’s worth it for us to stay, because if Iran and al-Qaeda take over Iraq, they will destabilize the entire Middle East, and they will strike at us here at home
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: Let me, let me turn —
SEN. JOSEPH LIEBERMAN: — with more frequency and ferocity.
AMY GOODMAN: That was Senator Lieberman speaking to George Stephanopoulos. Ali Nasri, representative of Miles for Peace, a group of Iranian peace activists who are cycling around Europe and the United States to oppose a war in Iran, you met with Senator Lieberman. Your response to what he has to say?
ALI NASRI: Well, what is interesting is that Mr. Lieberman is using Iran, is comparing to Iran to al-Qaeda. Al-Qaeda is a terrorist group. Iran is a nation. He’s omitting the fact that there are 70 million Iranians, and most of them are pro-peace and they are — actually the Iranian civil society is in the first stages of development, and as we see — as I have experienced in my own life in Iran, it shows that the great majority of them, there are a lot of movements, pro-democracy movements in Iran, and none of them is comparable to al-Qaeda. So comparing al-Qaeda and Iran is completely wrong, in my view.
AMY GOODMAN: What is the effect of the increased pressure on Iran from the United States? I’m just looking at a poll of Iranians released by the bipartisan anti-terror group Terror-Free Tomorrow. Eighty percent of Iranians favor Iran offering full international nuclear inspections and a guarantee not to develop or possess nuclear weapons in return for outside aid. Close to 70 percent of Iranians also favor normal relations and trade with the U.S.
ALI NASRI: Well, as I just — Iran, the Iranian civil society is a very, very pro-democratic one. There is a great students movement in Iran, and there is a feminist movement. There is a lot of human rights movements in Iran. And all of them are very fragile, because they are very new. You know, the Western world has had three centuries of experience in democracy, and the civil society in the Western world has had its time to grow and to be established. But Iran is on the road toward that democracy and that civil society, the stage of the civil society. But, and any statements like that, any harsh statement, any threats of war and sanctions against Iran can have a devastating effect on this new fragile civil society. And as we — when we talked to Mr. Lieberman, we told him that — these consequences. We named him all these consequences. He seemed to agree with us on a theoretical level of our statements. If he will follow up and keep his promise, I’m not sure. I think he was sincere.
AMY GOODMAN: I mean, it’s very interesting, this piece we read in the headlines, that in Iraq at least 80 people — well, the bombings that have been going on, the killings. But then the issue of Saudi Arabia, the Los Angeles Times reporting nearly half of all foreign militants targeting U.S. troops in Iraq have come from Saudi Arabia, one of Washington’s closest allies in the Middle East. Of the 19,000 being held by the U.S. in Iraq, only 135 are foreign-born fighters, half of them are Saudi. U.S. officials have so far refused to publicly criticize Saudi Arabia’s role in Iraq. Meanwhile, in Washington, as we just said, the Senate has unanimously passed a resolution sponsored by Joseph Lieberman to censure, not Saudi Arabia, but Iran, for the complicity and killing of U.S. soldiers in Iraq. Ali, can you tell us what is the feeling of Iranians towards the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq?
ALI NASRI: Well, like, you know, the Iranians are against this act, even though we have had the war with Iraq for so many — for eight years. It’s just at the humanitarian level, it is unacceptable. I don’t know what political gains can the United States have or can the world have from this invasion, because Saddam was an evil man and him not being in power anymore is a benefit to humankind. But at the humanitarian level, it’s just unacceptable, and when we see 700,000 Iraqis die, and they have already had a very difficult life, the Iraqis. And it’s just unacceptable for Iranians or for anyone who has a feeling for humanity.
We live in 2007. We are just a click away, at the age of the Internet. We’re just a click away from each other. In this time, we are all Iranians, we are all Americans, we are all Iraqis. As you see, Leslie has been on a hunger strike for Iran. It shows that she is just as Iranian as I am. And the attacks on Iraq is an attack on Iran, is an attack on the United States. The attack on the World Trade Center in the United States is an attack on Iran, as well. And it just makes no difference anymore at this age of the globalized world, at the global village, that we just segregate countries and have the double standard in our judgment about them.
AMY GOODMAN: Ali Nasri, can you tell us about this Miles for Peace? Tell us what you’re doing with the other Iranians as you cycle the country.
ALI NASRI: Yes, Miles for Peace, we’re just a group of 14 Iranians, average Iranian citizens, who have decided to take actions because of the current state of the world. So we’ve decided to travel through Europe and the United States while carrying the message of peace and friendship of the Iranian people through other countries. And, well, this is the — in this way, we try to meet elected representatives, we try to meet with cultural figures, religious figures, and try to build these bridges dialogue between the civil societies, because we believe that in today’s world, what we need is people’s diplomacy. State diplomacy has failed.
The U.N. has established like half a century ago, and yet we have more wars and atrocities and sanctions than ever before. So it shows that there’s more to do than state diplomacy. We need to involve the nations. We need to involve the people and have their say — and the people have to have their say in this current state of the world. And this was why we chose to embark into this difficult journey and meet with thousands of people and show the true image of Iran and also overcome some of our own prejudgments about people.
AMY GOODMAN: Where have you gone? Where are you headed right now?
ALI NASRI: Well, we started the journey in Italy, and then we went up to France, Germany, U.K. And then we flew to the United States. We did the east and western coasts of the United States. We had some meetings at the U.N. We had a meeting in Chicago with a group of peace activists against the war. And we have had different events on the way.
AMY GOODMAN: And where are you from in Iran, your whole group of 14?
ALI NASRI: Most of us — some of us are from — most of us are from Tehran. And we have people from Kermanshah, a western city in Iran. And we are from different backgrounds, actually. The ages go from 22 to 58. There are students among us. There are like teachers, university professors and workers. We have tried to show a very wide range of the Iranian people, as we selected the team.
AMY GOODMAN: Leslie, what are your plans now? Are you finished with your hunger strike?
LESLIE ANGELINE: We are starting a campaign today with CodePink called "Cities for Peace with Iran," and my boyfriend and I just will be traveling to Connecticut, and that will be the first state where we’re going to try to start Cities for Peace resolutions, pass resolutions in these cities, and then go to New Hampshire and travel all around the United States showing slides we took when we were in Iran of the Iranian people and talking about our experiences and hopefully getting cities to sign onto Cities for Peace with Iran.
AMY GOODMAN: And the CodePink presence in Washington painting lobbying pink, as they say. You now have a house there, the whole organization, the peace group co-founded by Medea Benjamin, and people are continuing their activism?
LESLIE ANGELINE: Right. That’s where I came — after I came back from Iran, I came to Washington, D.C., and I’ve been staying at the CodePink house for this month during my whole hunger strike. And it’s a wonderful place, and we’re just a few minutes from Capitol Hill. So we walk to Congress every day, and we go to hearings, and we lobby our congresspeople, and we try to get the war to end in Iraq and to prevent a war from starting in Iran.
AMY GOODMAN: And how effective do you think you’ve been?
LESLIE ANGELINE: I think we’re quite effective, and we have a lot of congresspeople and senators stopping and talking with us. The police talk with us. They ask me how I was doing on my hunger strike, and they seemed concerned. So I feel like we’re making progress with the people on Capitol Hill. And we’re touching their hearts. We are very committed. We want peace in this world.
AMY GOODMAN: Leslie Angeline, I want to thank you for being with us of CodePink, and Ali Nasri, we will also link to your website at milesforpeace.org.