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Thursday, October 3, 2013

Iran Frees Another Reformer, but Netanyahu Warns Persian Speakers Not to Be ‘Dupes’

As Iran released another political prisoner on Thursday, Israel’s prime minister slipped into Persian to suggest that only “sadeloh,” or “dupes,” would be fooled by recent diplomatic overtures from the clerical government in Tehran.

The release of the dissident journalist, Isa Saharkhiz, was confirmed to The Lede by his son Mehdi, a graphic designer and blogger based in New Jersey who later posted an image of his father at home on Twitter.

Before his arrest in 2009, during street protests over the disputed presidential election, Mr. Saharkhiz had worked on the campaign of a leading opposition candidate, Mehdi Karroubi. A decade earlier, he had served in the reformist administration of President Mohammad Khatami, overseeing a brief flowering of independent newspapers.

The subsequent suppression of those publications by hardliners encouraged young reformists to turn instead to the Internet to express themselves and organize. The younger Mr. Saharkhiz, who blogs as OnlyMehdi, played an important role in disseminating video of the 2009 protests on YouTube.

Speaking on Thursday to BBC Persian, a satellite news channel widely viewed inside Iran, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pointed to the most indelible video of the brutal crackdown on dissent in 2009 as evidence that Iran’s people were being held hostage by an authoritarian government.

Excerpts from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s interview with BBC Persian posted online by his office.

“The issue is this regime’s control of Iran,” he said, “its aggressive designs, the brutalization of its own people, its own people. We don’t forget. I saw Neda on the sidewalk, I saw her choking in her own blood. I saw the desire of the Iranian people to have real freedom, a real life. I know that, its there.”

Unlike President Obama, who said in his address to the United Nations General Assembly last week that the United States was “not seeking regime change” in Iran, Mr. Netanyahu argued in his appeal to the Iranian people that they would never be free of the clerical theocracy if it armed itself with nuclear weapons.

In another part of the interview posted online by his office, Mr. Netanyahu continued to argue that Iran was bluffing over the ultimate aim of its nuclear program, slipping into Persian to cast the Iranian leadership’s “harfe pooch,” or “empty words,” as convincing only “sadeloh,” or “dupes.”

Mr. Netanyahu spoke hours after Secretary of State John Kerry told reporters that he “did not interpret Prime Minister Netanyahu’s comments” on Iran this week “as suggesting that we are being played, somehow, for suckers. I understood it to be a warning: Don’t be played.”

Mr. Netanyahu heaped scorn on what he called a duplicitous charm offensive by Iran’s new president, Hassan Rouhani, during his address to the U.N. on Tuesday. He amplified those comments in an interview with NBC News in which he said, “Everybody knows that Iran wants to destroy Israel and that it’s building, trying to build atomic bombs for that purpose. You don’t want to be in a position where this messianic, apocalyptic, radical regime that has these wild ambitions but nice spokesmen, gets away with building the weapons of mass death.”

Later in the interview, Mr. Netanyahu dismissed the election that brought Mr. Rouhani to the presidency this year, and reiterated his conviction that ultimate authority in Iran rests with a supreme leader who is a dangerous religious fanatic. “If they had a free go, are you kidding, they’d toss out this regime, they’d go in bluejeans,” the Israeli prime minister said. “I mean these people, the Iranian people, the majority of them are actually pro-Western. But they don’t have that. They’re governed not by Rouhani. They’re governed by Ayatollah Khamenei. He heads a cult. That cult is wild in its ambitions and its aggression.”