Group Tries to Bridge U.S.-Iran Gulf by Setting Up Party-Line Call with 'Ordinary People'

It was a diplomatic hot line for the people: a red phone in a Boston neighborhood with a sign inviting passers-by to speak directly to someone in Iran.

Organizers said 15 to 20 people took advantage of the chance to talk with volunteers in Iran recruited through the Internet. The hour-long effort was aimed at getting ordinary Americans and Iranians to talk while their leaders remain locked in a dispute about the intent of Tehran's nuclear program.

"That's a great idea," passer-by Kathy Cody said. "The problem isn't with the average Iranian; it's with the politicians."

Somerville activist Nick Jehlen organized the party line with the Enough Fear campaign, which was founded last year after discussions between American and Iranian bloggers about ways to defuse tensions between their countries. Jehlen said it was a test run for a project that could be repeated in other cities.

"May I ask how the U.S. is portrayed in the media?" said Sarah Shugars, 24, an Emerson College master's student who was the first to take the phone. Organizers said a 25-year-old artist was on the other end in Iran, though they would not give her name or hometown for fear of Iranian reprisals.

The translator, a 29-year-old MIT student from Iran, also would only provide her first name, Rana, for fear of fallout from her home government.

The artist told Shugars, "Iranians don't have a problem with the American people, and it's just the president that's problematic and giving them a hard time."

President George W. Bush has warned that a nuclear Iran would destabilize not only the Middle East, but also the world because of its potential to use or supply nuclear weapons. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has insisted his country's nuclear program is peaceful, focused on energy and beyond the reach of American authority.

The dispute has created tension between the U.S. and some its allies, including Russia, which openly backs Iran.


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