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Can We Talk?


Relations between the U.S. and Iran have been strained for some time over Tehran's nuclear program. A recent encounter in the Persian Gulf between their naval forces illustrated the extreme tensions that exist between the two nations. A group of peace activists known as "Enough Fear" is promoting a people-to-people diplomacy effort that they hope will prevent a future conflict between the countries. VOA's Behnam Nateghi was on hand recently as people from both nations... just talked. Jim Bertel narrates.

It is a simple phone bank on a New York street... where ordinary Americans are talking to their counterparts in Iran.

This telephone diplomacy is the brainchild of Nick Jehlen, a magazine art director who got the idea after conversations with Iranian bloggers on the Internet. He explains, "The origin of the campaign is basically to come up with a way for Iranians and Americans to work together for peace, instead of just having a peace movement in one country or the other."

The phones are modeled after Hollywood's take on the hotline between the Kremlin and the White House during the Cold War.

"It is basically the idea that there is a hotline between the United States and Iran," Jehlan said. "It should be between our two governments, but for right now we are going to start with the people."

Farsi-speaking students translate the conversations. On the other end are Iranians who submitted their phone numbers online.

Jedaiah thinks this is a good first step. "You know, we both, I am sure, Iranians love their country, as we love our country, and because we love our country, this is why we are making an effort like this."

Evelyn, a media researcher, was surprised to see the phones. She said, "Communicating person to person is really what politics are all about, right? But then it gets lost in all this… all the entanglements that are going on. As you travel around the world and you meet people, or in New York, you meet immigrants, and everyone has a story to tell, which is human. It is exciting to be able to talk to someone in another place, which often we don't have the opportunity to."

Organizers are hoping there will be opportunities for people in other American cities to talk to people in Iran in the future.