Refusing to recognize Ahmadinejad’s government will get us nowhere

Following Ban Ki-moon’s “congratulating” Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s re-election, 200-plus “intellectuals, activists and defenders of rights,” including a number of Nobel Prize winners, have signed an open letter to the Secretary-General contesting the Iranian elections and urging him to take a number to steps to withhold support for the Iranian regime and protect the rights of Iranian protestors. Another Nobel laureate, Iranian human rights lawyer Shirin Ebadi, has also stressed that Ban should send a truth-finding commission to Iran and push for a re-election.

There’s nothing wrong with — and in fact much reason to support — sending a truth-finding commission to Iran (though try telling that to Ahmadinejad), and even more reason to speak out against the human rights abuses of Iranian protestors. In fact, Ban has spoken out against the violence curtailing of press and assembly rights that followed the election, and a UN report on the country is due at the end of the year. But what’s harder to responsibly call for is the group letter’s final recommendation — essentially, that the UN Secretary-General denounce Iran’s government.

Refuse to recognise Ahmadinejad’s illegitimate government that has staged an electoral coup, and curtailing any and all forms of co-operation with it from all nations and international organisations

This is similar to the implicit position in the negative reactions — fewer, I admit, than I’d expected — to Ban’ perfunctory “congratulation” of Ahmadinejad, and to critics of President Obama’s unwillingness to denounce the Iranian regime outright. This sort of criticism is entirely myopic, though, even for skeptics of strategies of engagement and cooperation. No matter how farcical Iran’s election was, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is currently the leader of Iran, and no support that the international community bestows or withholds will change that — in fact, the latter would likely only exacerbate tensions.

Ban Ki-moon is the Secretary-General of 192 United Nations, and Barack Obama the president of the most powerful country in the world. They both have to deal with Iran. Cooperation is much easier than confrontation, and the goals — ensuring that Iran does not build a nuclear weapon, for instance — are far more important than the unproductive act of denouncing Iran’s leaders.