Iran Entanglements Ignite Two Rallies, In Town and at P.U.

By Donald Gilpin

American politics continues to interweave and often clash with Iranian politics, and last week those entanglements precipitated two rallies in Princeton.

The first took place in Hinds Plaza on Wednesday to protest against President Trump’s announcement that the United States would be withdrawing from the nuclear agreement with Iran; and the second was held on Friday evening at Princeton University outside Frist Campus Center to show support and solidarity for Xiyue Wang, a Princeton graduate student who has been imprisoned in Iran for almost two years.

Only one day after Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Iran nuclear agreement, about 70 people gathered for an emergency protest rally organized by the Princeton-based Coalition for Peace Action (CFPA), calling on the president and/or Congress to reverse that decision.

CFPA Executive Director Bob Moore described Trump’s decision as “outrageous, deeply disappointing, totally wrong-headed.” He continued, “Yes, we have concerns about Iran’s behavior, but we have to engage and resolve our problems through diplomacy — diplomacy not war. We can still salvage this agreement, but we may be on a track now that leads to military confrontation.”

Other speakers included Princeton University physicist Rob Goldston, an expert on the Iran nuclear agreement; Iranian-American physician Ahmad Farzad; Frank von Hippel, professor emeritus of public and international affairs at Princeton University and former assistant director of the White House Science Advisor’s office; Mark Pepper, CFPA treasurer; and Niki VanAller, CFPA assistant director.

“Trump said some things to us, most of which were lies,” Goldston said. Pointing out “falsehoods” “alternate facts,” and “misleading statements” in Trump’s rationale for reneging on the agreement, Goldston argued that Iran had not been the perpetrator of terrorist attacks on the U.S. in the past 20 years; that Iran had essentially stopped its nuclear program in 2003, and all Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s evidence to the contrary came from before 2003; and that the U.S. needs to continue working with its international partners — the European Union, Russia, and China, who have remained in the agreement.

“We can strengthen the non-proliferation treaty,” Goldston added. “We’re allowing Iran to put a wedge between us and our closest allies. This is no way to create a team to work on the Iran deal.”

Goldston went on to urge the audience to “put pressure on Congress to fight back on this decision” and “to go out and vote for someone who will not support this kind of activity.”

Von Hippel noted that even though Trump has claimed he wants a better deal, “President Trump has not tried to negotiate a better deal himself. Instead he gave the Europeans and Congress four months to negotiate a better deal.” Von Hippel asserted that Trump is allying with Netanyahu and the leadership of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates in moving towards more belligerent measures against Iran.

Distributing fliers titled “Starting a Buzz — Helping Peace Have an Impact!” VanAller urged rally participants to “start conversations,” to “write a letter to the editor for your local paper,” to “use social media,” and to “contact representatives directly.” She added, “the only way we can fix this mess is through a mass movement that we need to lead.”

In a phone interview after the event, Moore echoed VanAller’s comments. “Don’t become cynical,” he said. “It’s not a done deal. We can push back. Congress can push back. The EU, Russia, and China can all join the pushback. We’re not alone in our opposition to this decision. We want to speak for the two-thirds of Americans who wanted to keep the deal.”

Solidarity With Wang

The Friday evening gathering of more than 100 University and community members on the Frist North Lawn featured a broad array of speakers, including colleagues, friends, and family members of Wang, as well as government representatives, including Princeton Mayor Liz Lempert and New Jersey Congressman Chris Smith (R-4).

A PhD student in the Princeton University History Department, Wang was arrested in August 2016 when he was in Iran pursuing Farsi language studies and conducting scholarly research for his dissertation on 19th-century Eurasia. In April 2017 he was sentenced by the Iranian judiciary to 10 years imprisonment on charges of espionage, in a proceeding that lacked basic due process and other legal protections, according to the rally organizers.

Wang remains in Iran’s Evin Prison, and, amidst deteriorating relations between the U.S. and Iran, there appears to have been little progress on diplomatic fronts to secure his release and return to the U.S.

In the hour-long event organized by the University community and Princeton students led by Wang’s graduate student colleagues Jane Manners and Edith Blackman, speakers emphasized Wang’s innocence, his commitment to scholarship, and their urgent desire for his release and return to his wife and 5-year-old son.

“We are standing by Wang in solidarity,” said Graduate School Dean Sarah-Jane Leslie. “We miss him. We care for him, and we want him to come home.” Citing Wang’s “unjust and unjustifiable captivity,” Leslie added, in a comment to Wang’s wife Hua Qu, “The University cares deeply for Wang, for you, and for your child Shaofan. We all share a commitment to bring Wang home.”

Graduate student colleagues described Wang as ”a dedicated scholar, loving husband, and caring father,” “a generous classmate and a thoughtful friend,” and “a good, kind, and gentle person.”

Referring to the “horrible, unjust, and unspeakable ordeal” Wang is undergoing, Lempert stated, “It violates everything our community holds dear,” and she echoed others’ comments that “as a community we stand with you and join with you in doing everything we can to bring Wang back home soon and safely.”

Lempert also read a statement of support from Assemblyman Andrew Zwicker, who was unable to attend. Jeremy Julis, U.S. Senator Robert Menendez’s deputy director of constituent services, followed with a statement from the senator.

Smith, senior member of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs and chairman of the Subcommittee on Global Human Rights, urged, “One thing we can’t do is lose hope.” Emphasizing that “there was absolutely nothing to justify the charges,” he added, “When we make it a priority in our diplomacy, when we use sanctions in a way that will lead to a positive outcome, we can achieve the release of prisoners who are unjustly incarcerated.”

The distribution and lighting of candles and a speech by Wang’s wife concluded the proceedings. Qu phrased her comments in the form of an appeal to Trump. “Please meet with me to hear my story and show your support,” she said. “As time goes by I fear more and more for his safety. He has been subjected to abuse and harsh interrogation by the authorities. He is losing hope. Please bring Wang home and make our family whole again.”