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Iran's nuclear crisis: Obama could play the human rights card

One issue that should be put on the table is what Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad put on display this week in New York: Iran's religious minorities.

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Today's announcement by President Obama and European leaders that Iran is building a secret underground nuclear facility adds fresh urgency to an issue that's been festering for years. Tensions will now be considerably higher among negotiators at the planned Oct. 1 meeting about Iran's nuclear program.

Already, there is talk of much-harsher sanctions if Iran does not meet international demands in the next two months. "Everything must be put on the table now," said French President Nicolas Sarkozy.

One issue that should be put on the table was displayed by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad this week in New York: Iran's religious minorities.

Iran's deplorable record on human rights is often treated as separate from the nuclear issue. It's not. If Iran's government can't be trusted to treat its own citizens with basic dignity, how can it be trusted with nuclear technology?

Mr. Ahmadinejad's theatrics involved including five religious minority parliamentarians in his entourage to the UN General Assembly, this week. This act shows how eager Tehran is to be accepted back into the community of nations. Thus, the human rights card could be considerable leverage for Western powers in coming weeks.

When he addressed the United Nations General Assembly on Sept. 23, Ahmadinejad professed concern for "justice, freedom, and human rights." He apparently thought his five props would help him project a tolerant, peace-loving face. It was a stiff performance.

Iran is one "big and unified family" with full legal rights for religious minorities, he declared when choosing these minority representatives, according to official reports. Yet these people could not refuse.

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