Before Mahmoud Ahmadinejad echoed the repulsive views of the Iranian theocracy at the United Nations General Assembly on Thursday, thousands of Iranian Resistance supporters, who had come to New York from 40 states across the US, echoed the legitimate aspirations of the Iranian people by protesting opposite the UN headquarters.
Among the speakers at the well-organized and energetic rally were former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani and former US ambassador to the UN John Bolton. Dozens of other prominent dignitaries attended from the United States and Europe.
Demonstrators chanted "Down with Ahmadinejad; viva Rajavi", referring to the opposition leader Maryam Rajavi, who addressed the crowd via satellite from Paris.
In her speech to a jubilant audience, Mrs. Rajavi, the President-elect of the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), said, "The only solution for the Iranian crisis is democratic change by the Iranian people and their organized Resistance."
Meanwhile, Ahmadinejad spoke to a sparsely populated General Assembly. His 33-minute diatribe featured everything from slavery, coups in Latin America, wars in Africa, and even the pharaohs. It derided everything but the ailments caused by the barbaric dictatorship of which Ahmadinejad is now the chief spokesman.
Indeed, his entire speech and his appalling suggestion that the US was responsible for the 9/11 terror attacks were meant to distract attention and debate away from the regime's crippling internal fissures, entrenched unpopularity at home, brutal clampdown of internal dissent and, of course, its nuclear intransigence.
In an interview the Farsi service of the BBC the next day, President Barack Obama said that Ahmadinejad's "hateful" and "offensive" comments stood in stark contrast to the Iranian people's response to the 9/11 attacks.
"It just shows, once again, the difference between how the Iranian leadership and this regime operate and how I think the vast majority of Iranian people, who are respectful and thoughtful, think about these issues."
These were prudent remarks. In acknowledging this central divide between the regime and the people -- an inescapable reality of consequential importance for today's Iran -- Mr. Obama shone the spotlight once again on exactly where it should shine: the Iranian people's struggle to uproot the Iranian regime and establish democracy.
The President should make his stance more potent and unequivocal so as to dispel any lingering confusion both in Tehran and other capitals about where America stands when it comes to the Iranian people's fight against the ruling dictatorship.
Just as President Obama noted the Iranian people's solidarity with the American people in the aftermath of the heinous terror attacks on 9/11, the international community should exude the same level of care, alert and solidarity when referring to the "vast majority of Iranian people" and their sentiments towards the regime.
Last year, millions of Iranians took to the streets in the face of extraordinary violence perpetrated by the regime's security forces to chant not just for the observance of their universal rights, as the President has acknowledged, but more pointedly for democratic change.
That is where they need to be encouraged the most. Young Iranian protestors chanted in November 2009, "Obama, Obama, are you with them, or with us?" The President responded in his Noble Peace Prize acceptance speech in Oslo City Hall: "We will bear witness to ... the hundreds of thousands who have marched silently through the streets of Iran." In addition to rhetorical support, Mr. Obama should take concrete and practical steps to make a deliberate point that tyranny in Iran is no longer permissible in America's eyes.
A large bi-partisan group of members of congress have underscored that perhaps the most important obstacle to democratic change in Iran is the blacklisting of the main Iranian opposition, the People's Mojahedin (PMOI/MEK) in the US. In 1997, the State Department placed the group on its Foreign Terrorist Organization list to curry favour with the Ayatollahs and cultivate reform. The policy backfired because it not only failed to mollify the mullahs but instead it emboldened them to pursue their nefarious policies at home and abroad. Indeed, America's weak signals actually cultivated the likes of Ahmadinejad.
In July, the Washington Post wrote, "A federal appeals court ... ordered the State Department to review its decision to label an Iranian opposition group as a foreign terrorist organization, strongly suggesting the designation should be revoked." This is a great opportunity to right a wrong; an opportunity to make a point to the Iranian people that America supports their aspirations.
On Thursday, both the thousands of demonstrators and speakers like Mayor Giuliani confidently said the PMOI "is not a terrorist organization." Mr. Giuliani's more than three decades of experience studying and investigating terrorism and terrorist organizations should not go unnoticed. He has also experienced the tragic consequences of terrorism first hand.
"This is an organization," he said of the PMOI, "dedicated to achieving freedom and dignity for its people. ... President Obama should support [lifting its terrorist designation] as a defender of freedom."
Ambassador John Bolton criticized the Bush administration for maintaining the PMOI on the FTO list in January 2009. "No good American supports terrorism, but no good American believes that people should be discriminated against particularly in order to open a channel of communication with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad," he said.
President Obama prudently highlighted the face-off between the Iranian people and the regime on Friday. He now has the opportunity to complement his wisdom with courage by standing firmly on the right side of the fence.
The bipartisan support in Congress and the recent ruling by the US Federal Court of Appeals have given the President a historic opportunity to side with the people of Iran by revoking the PMOI's designation and stand as a supporter of freedom in Iran at a time when both the mullahs and the Iranian people are watching most attentively. Doing so would help prevent his legacy from being tarnished by an unwanted war, a hostile regime equipped with a nuclear weapon, and the start of a nuclear arms race in the Middle East.