June 16, 2005


The 'devil' you know (Charles Recknagel, 6/17/05, Asia Times)

Polls in Iran have limited reliability but consistently have shown Ayatollah Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani to be the front-runner. He is a high-ranking conservative cleric who is often termed a pragmatic politician and pro-business centrist.

Rafsanjani already has served two terms as Iran's president from 1989 to 1997 and is branding himself as the only one of the eight candidates with the stature to deliver on his campaign promises.

The former president, 70, heads Iran's top political arbitration body - the Expediency Council. He says he wants to integrate Iran into the global economy. And last month, he hinted that could include opening negotiations with the United States.

"We cannot ignore the US - the fact is that the US is a world superpower. Actually, we should act wisely with this superpower in a way that steers it away from adventurism. We should let the US understand that adventurism in the Middle East region cannot serve its interest," Rafsanjani said.

This week he said, "I am going for a policy of relaxation in tension and detente, and this is a policy that I will apply towards the United States as well." [...]

Among the reformists, the front-runner is Mustafa Moin, 54, a former minister for higher education. He is joined by running mate Mohammad Reza Khatami, the younger brother of outgoing President Mohammad Khatami.

Moin's platform emphasizes liberalizing the economy and easing tensions with Washington. He also champions greater intellectual freedom and cultural diversity and has said he would be prepared to give up uranium enrichment for a period of time if it were in Iran's national interest to do so.

Those are positions that should please the West. But some analysts say they may not be enough to make Moin, or another reformist candidate, the West's first choice as a new negotiating partner.

Faulks said the reformists now labor under the shadow of Khatami's inability to push through their initiatives during his two terms in office. For part of that time, reformists dominated both Iran's legislative and executive branches, yet were stymied by resistance from the conservative establishment, including crackdowns.

"It's a strange situation where you find that European governments and Western governments find themselves perhaps hoping that a pragmatic conservative triumphs over a reformist who espouses ideals such as democracy and human rights. But, of course it is difficult to see that Moin could be any more effective than Khatami was and would very probably be less effective. He is after all facing a reactionary, conservative majlis [parliament] and very probably you would see a kind of stasis in policymaking, much as you do under Khatami, probably worse, unfortunately," Faulks said.

It'd be interesting to see if a run-off between the two would re-energize the currently dispirited reform movement.

Bridging the gap (Maggie Mitchell Salem, 6/17/05, Asia Times)

During the past decade, Washington and Tehran have shown tantalizing signs that the vast void between them could indeed be bridged if both put their interests before ideology.

"Crisis communication" - from the USS Vincennes felling of an Iranian airbus to the September 11, 2001, terror attacks to stabilizing Afghanistan to the Bam earthquake - all were opportunities to bypass hardliners and sustain dialogue.

Former president Bill Clinton began his first term with "dual containment" and ended his second with an appearance at Khatami's UN speech. Khatami was not authorized to shake Clinton's hand.

The handshake came in November 2001, between former secretary of state Colin Powell and Iran's foreign minister.

After September 11, Iran provided substantial assistance to the US to defeat their common enemy - the Taliban and al-Qaeda.

Then, in January 2002, Iran's international adventurism once again short-circuited constructive engagement. Israeli forces seized a ship loaded with 50 tons of arms bound for the Palestinian Authority. Both Washington and Tel Aviv accused Iran of funneling the weapons to Islamic militants.

Less than a month later, Bush identified Iran as part of the triple crown of evil. The relationship has failed to recover.

The slowly escalating conflict over Iran's nuclear program is just the latest installment in an unnecessarily tortuous relationship.

What's next? There is no reason to believe that Rafsanjani will shake off the hardliners. Some will be eager to hem him in.

The question remains: will Washington stop rewarding the hardliners' bad behavior by engaging in direct, if carefully calibrated dialogue with Tehran. Gary Sick, a former national security adviser who covered Iran during the revolution and hostage crisis, had this to say in January 2004: "I don't see any immediate or miraculous breakthrough, where Iran and the United States embrace or set up formal diplomatic relations. On the other hand, all it would really take for a very rapid movement in that direction would be an expression of will on the part of an Iranian or American leader. Up to now, that has not been present."

Unfortunately, the deficit of determined leadership remains more than 18 months later.

There are ample reasons to do better, roughly 34 million of them.

American values - not necessarily policies - are popular among Iran's under 35 set, a majority of the country. Bush is right to reach out to them. But phony broadcasting and White House entreaties are only tactics, and weak ones at that. He could start by formulating a strategy that pushes the right buttons in Tehran - and doesn't push likely allies into the arms of hardliners.

Rafsanjani, a seasoned veteran of infighting and related international intrigue, may be looking to take the revolution he helped install and sustain to the next level: Islamic Iran as a full member of the international community. He can't do that without Bush's consent. And both Bush and Rafsanjani may find good reason to come together to stabilize Iraq - most recently, the bombings in the neighboring, oil-rich Iranian province of Khuzestan.

Not Our Man in Iran (DANIELLE PLETKA, 6/16/05, NY Times)


One of Iran’s most influential ruling cleric called Friday on the Muslim states to use nuclear weapon against Israel, assuring them that while such an attack would annihilate Israel, it would cost them "damages only".

"If a day comes when the world of Islam is duly equipped with the arms Israel has in possession, the strategy of colonialism would face a stalemate because application of an atomic bomb would not leave any thing in Israel but the same thing would just produce damages in the Muslim world", Ayatollah Ali Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani told the crowd at the traditional Friday prayers in Tehran.

Analysts said not only Mr. Hashemi-Rafsanjani’s speech was the strongest against Israel, but also this is the first time that a prominent leader of the Islamic Republic openly suggests the use of nuclear weapon against the Jewish State.

Posted by Orrin Judd at June 16, 2005 6:00 AM
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