PARIS (Reuters) - An Iranian opposition group said on Monday it aimed to create a national council incorporating a wide range of groups inside Iran by March to offer a “credible alternative” to the current government.
Set up in April 2010, the Iranian Green Democratic Congress (IGDC) says it has been working over the last year to bring together groups as varied as republicans and monarchists and ethnicities including Iranian Azeris, Balushis and Arabs.
“After the (anti-government unrest) of 2009, a lot of taboos were lifted and dialogue between different opposition members has become easier,” said Reza Pirzadeh, president of the Paris-based IGDC, which supports a secular democracy.
“There’s movement on the ground, regionally and internationally, so we have to go quickly and hope to create a national council that is a credible and democratic alternative to the regime before the Iranian New Year by mid-March.”
The West has imposed new sanctions over Iran’s nuclear program that are causing real pain to its economy. U.S. President Barack Obama signed a law on New Year’s Eve that, if fully implemented, would prevent most countries from buying Iranian oil.
The European Union, which still buys about a fifth of Iran’s oil, is poised to announce an embargo at the end of this month, and other countries may have to cut purchases of Iranian crude to receive waivers from the U.S. sanctions.
“Our idea is to have a real national reconciliation a little like what Nelson Mandela did,” said Pirzadeh.
“The Iranian solution cannot be by force or through vengeance, which could only lead to a horrific blow to Iran and the region.”
Pirzadeh said that the proposed council had to derive its legitimacy from groups inside Iran first.
“We are creating the basis and the political charter with them and it is their ideas above all (that count). It’s crucial that we follow what comes from inside,” he said.
The rial currency has plunged by as much as 40 percent and Iranians have scrambled to withdraw savings from banks to buy dollars, the latest signal that Iran’s economy is suffering.
The hardship comes two months before a parliamentary election. The disputed results of a 2009 presidential vote triggered eight months of angry street demonstrations.
“These sanctions have really hurt the regime and are equally having an impact on the population,” Pirzadeh said. “There is a general loss of faith in the currency which weakens the population, but is also paralysing the regime.”
Pirzadeh said what was needed now was also to send a signal to the population to show that the government was the target.
“These (new) sanctions should be accompanied with strong political and diplomatic sanctions, for example reducing diplomatic relations to a minimum to the level of charge d’affaires or to refuse all visas to Iranian officials and to freeze their personal assets,” he said.
“Iranians will only be able to go onto the streets when they know that there is an alternative. They did that 30 years ago under the slogan ‘the Shah must go and everything will be better’, but today everybody is demanding they know exactly in which direction we are heading before. That’s why we have to be as clear and transparent as possible.”
Pirzadeh said that he did not believe Tehran had the military capacity to block the Hormuz Starits for a prolonged period as a blockade would be a “declaration of war” on its neighbors and oil importers across the world.
Reporting By John Irish; editing by Andrew Roche