CAIRO, Egypt - Iran's largest and oldest student organization is publicly urging the Tehran government to suspend uranium enrichment and cooperate fully with the international community.
A statement released Tuesday by Tahkim Vahdat's central committee called for a "temporary suspension of nuclear activities," Voice of America's Persian Service reported and an Iranian-American activist with close ties to the student organization confirmed.
The statement from Tahkim Vahdat came less than a week after President Ahmadinejad appeared on Iranian national television to announce "the good news" that the regime's scientists had enriched uranium to levels suitable both for use in bombs and nuclear power plants.
The students' public criticism of Iran's nuclear activities could make them vulnerable to crackdowns by the country's national security service, which is commanded by loyal allies of the Holocaust-denying president.
Voicing dissent over the nuclear program carries risk. Last month, a human rights lawyer, Abdolfattah Soltani, was released after spending seven months in prison on charges of nuclear espionage.
A former member of the student organization's central committee, Reza Delberry, said last week in an interview from Tehran that the group did not necessarily refute Iran's right to enrich uranium, but rather was concerned that the regime's prioritization of a nuclear program was detrimental to other, more pressing needs.
"You have to put this in the proper context. Nuclear energy, although it is important for peaceful means, this is not a priority in terms of what we and the Iranian people are looking for," Mr. Delberry said. "We want to be getting to the position where a democratic system is in place and our government respects human rights and enjoy a peaceful coexistence with the world."
Tahkim Vahdat, which was a pillar of the 1979 revolution, vocally agitated over the summer for the release from prison of a dissident journalist, Akbar Ganji. The organization's former leaders have also endorsed the idea of a referendum on the Islamic Republic's constitution, which now vests most legislative, judicial, and national security powers in the unelected supreme leader.
Voice of America yesterday quoted a spokesman for Tahkim Vahdat, Saber Sheykhlou, as calling Iran's recent enrichment activities irrational. "The irrational and confrontational behavior of those who are in power has put the country and the nation on the threshold of a war or devastating sanctions," VOA quoted Mr. Sheykhlou as saying.
"The referral of Iran's nuclear case to the U.N. Security Council was the result of Iran's biggest foreign-policy mistake."
Mr. Delberry last week said he and others in Iran's opposition movement opposed the prospect of an American bombing campaign, but added that he believed Mr. Ahmadinejad's behavior was aimed partly at provoking an assault.
"The only solution is a nonviolent process towards democracy that will keep in mind the interests of the Iran ian people in coming to a democratic system," Mr. Delberry said.
"The only way to do this is to go through a nonviolent process. Any violent approach, military approach, or otherwise, is not accepted and not right. It will put a strain on our democracy movement."
Mr. Ganji considered a possible American invasion in his second manifesto, released last summer. He wrote that Iranian opposition members worried about the prospect of invasion, but noted that no one inside Iran knows whether such a plan exists or what its details might be.
"That plan depends more on the behavior of the Iranian regime than it does on the conduct of the opposition forces," Mr. Ganji wrote. He called American military action against Iran unlikely, particularly given America's involvement in Iraq. The surest way to avoid a confrontation, he said, is to succeed in a nonviolent democratic revolution.
"Freedom lovers can't stop their struggle for freedom and democracy because of a possible U.S. invasion. They can't stand behind tyranny to face imperialism, as the motto goes," he wrote.
Mr. Ganji last month was threatened with more jail time after having been released in March just before the Persian New Year. So far, however, no warrant has been issued for his arrest. In recent weeks, he has kept largely to himself, though he has visited a number of Iranian newspapers for informal discussions.