June 3, 2006


Royal Democrat: Reza Pahlavi says America should help Iranians who oppose the regime. (NANCY DE WOLF SMITH, June 3, 2006, Opinion Journal)

Mr. Pahlavi...is the son of Mohammed Reza Pahlavi, who for a time made Iran the linchpin of Middle Eastern stability and set his country on a course toward modernity and prosperity. The famous name helps, but so, for instance, does the Internet. From his home in a Washington suburb where I visited him last week, Mr. Pahlavi is in constant contact with people all over his homeland, including curious students who turn to him as a link with a more liberal past and also to exchange thoughts about a democratic future.

In short, Mr. Pahlavi easily grasps what the rest of the international community refuses to understand or to acknowledge.

"There is no incentive that we can give the Islamic Republic to stand down," he told me over Memorial Day weekend. "They need to do what they're doing, first and foremost because this is a totalitarian system. It has to keep the mood on the streets in its favor by continuing this process. If they are using the slogan of enrichment as a tool to keep these people mobilized, the minute they concede, they will lose their entire praetorian guard. Therefore there's no way that they are going to concede on that point."

The threat of sanctions or the promise of aid won't budge the regime either, he says. "There is no economic incentive that you can throw at them, because you are not dealing with a conventional state, in the sense that it is ultimately accountable and responsible and cares about the citizens living in that boundary. It's not the welfare of the people that matters to them. They can send $100 million to Hamas in Palestine when people are starving on the streets of Iran. They could care less about their economic status, so long as they can fuel their own war machine.

"You cannot even offer them a security guarantee, they don't care. For them, war is a gift from God. [President] Ahmadinejad is talking about Armageddon. He's talking about paving the way for the reemergence of the 12th imam, which is coming back to the planet to bring back stability and peace after major cataclysm. They really believe that."

Until that happens, the prospect of negotiations with the U.S. is a little godsend for the regime, Mr. Pahlavi explains. Iran's rulers can say, "Look at us! We're standing against the Great Satan . . . and guess what? We have brought them to their knees, we have brought them to the table."

As for Tehran's end game, that's simple: "Ultimately, what is the grand prize for them? They would like to achieve something the Soviets never could--the control of the Middle East. The economic lifeline of the Western world. By encircling the Persian Gulf, by institutionalizing themselves, with their proxies operating everywhere, and in a fait accompli-type scenario, force the world to reckon with them. Naturally, if they ultimately get the bomb, their deterrent will be even more dangerous." [...]

And yet a solution to all of this is percolating up today, Mr. Pahlavi says, and it's coming from the Iranian people. In fact, he insists, in dealing with a belligerent Tehran, "there is only one thing that the outside world can do, and that is to tell the regime: 'We are serious about supporting the people who are inside Iran who are against you.' That is the only thing that will make Mr. Khamenei [Iran's supreme leader] and everybody stand down. Because nothing else ruffles them. The only thing they are really scared of are the people themselves."

Peaceful revolutions from within have worked before, so why, he asks, isn't the West investing in the Iranian people--"the same way they supported so many movements in Eastern Europe that ultimately brought down communist governments that were under Moscow's umbrella?" Dissidents are everywhere, in the universities, workplaces, the conventional armed forces, he adds: "There are thousands of cells . . . each trying to bring as much pressure as they can--but with very limited resources. Imagine the cumulative weight of all these resistance groups in a civil disobedience act--nonviolent, we don't believe in violent change--that could begin sustained pressure to the point of paralyzing the system until it would collapse."

It might be easy to dismiss Mr. Pahlavi as a typical pipe-dreaming exile if there weren't so much evidence from Iran of mounting popular unrest, including student demonstrations and other massive protests and labor strikes. Arguably, unrest does not automatically translate into a force for change. Like other Iranians in opposition, though, he has reason to believe that they could.

Americans, including "experts" in Washington, have too much invested in the notion of a monolithic Iran to effectively exploit the yawning divides between the clerics, the politicians, and the people.

A Talk at Lunch That Shifted the Stance on Iran (HELENE COOPER and DAVID E. SANGER, 6/03/06, NY Times)

Mr. Bush's aides rarely describe policy debates in the Oval Office in much detail. But in recounting his decisions in this case, they appeared eager to portray him as determined to rebuild a fractured coalition still bearing scars from Iraq and find a way out of a negotiating dynamic that, as one aide said recently, "the Iranians were winning."

Mr. Bush gradually grew more comfortable with offering talks to a country that he considers the No. 1 state sponsor of terrorism, and whose president has advocated wiping Israel off the map. Mr. Bush's own early misgivings about the path he was considering came in a flurry of phone calls to Ms. Rice and to Stephen J. Hadley, his national security adviser, that often began with questions like "What if the Iranians do this," gaming out loud a number of possible situations.

Mr. Bush left open the option of scuttling the entire idea until early Wednesday morning, three senior officials said, speaking on the condition of anonymity because they were describing internal debates in the White House. He made the final decision only after telephone calls with President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia and the chancellor of Germany, Angela Merkel, led him to conclude that if Tehran refused to suspend its enrichment of uranium, or later dragged its feet, they would support an escalating series of sanctions against Iran at the United Nations that could lead to a confrontation.

Even after Mr. Bush edited the statement Ms. Rice was scheduled to read Wednesday before she flew to Vienna to encourage Europe and Russia to sign on to a final package of incentives for Iran — and sanctions if it turns the offer down — Ms. Rice wanted to check in one more time. She called Mr. Bush. Was he sure he was O.K. with his decision?

"Go do it," he responded.

She did, but the results remain unclear. Iran has given no indication it will agree to Mr. Bush's threshold condition, suspending nuclear fuel production. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said on Friday that he would oppose "any pressure to deprive our people from their right" to pursue a peaceful nuclear program.

The IRNA news agency reported that Iran's foreign minister, Manouchehr Mottaki, said Saturday that Javier Solana, the European Union's foreign policy chief, was expected to arrive in Tehran in the next few days with the new package of incentives.

"Iran will examine the proposal and announce its opinion after that," Mr. Mottaki said. Mr. Bush's aides now acknowledge that the approach they had once publicly described as successfully "isolating" Iran was in fact viewed internally as going nowhere. Mr. Bush's search for a new option was driven, they say, by concern that the path he was on two months ago would inevitably force one of two potentially disastrous outcomes: an Iranian bomb, or an American attack on Iran's facilities.

Conservatives, even some inside the administration, are worried that Mr. Bush may be forced into other concessions, including allowing Iran to continue some low level of nuclear fuel production. Others fear that the commitments Mr. Bush believes he extracted from other world leaders may erode.

But the story of how a president who rarely changes his mind did so in this case — after refusing similar proposals on Iran four years ago — illustrates the changed dynamic between the State Department and the White House in Mr. Bush's second term. When Colin L. Powell was secretary of state, the two buildings often seemed at war. But 18 months after Ms. Rice took over, her relationship with Mr. Bush has led to policies that one former adviser to Ms. Rice and Mr. Bush said "he never would have allowed Colin to pursue."

It is unclear how much dissent, if any, surrounded the decision, which appears to have been driven largely by the president, Ms. Rice and Mr. Hadley, with other senior national security officials playing a more remote role. Both White House and State Department officials say that Vice President Dick Cheney, long an opponent of proposals to engage Iran, agreed to this experiment. But it is unclear whether he is an enthusiast, or simply expects Iran to reject suspending enrichment — clearing the way to sanctions that could test the Iranian regime's ability to survive.

Posted by Orrin Judd at June 3, 2006 10:33 AM

There are no significant politicians in Iran apart from the mullahs and the military/militia leaders. The third group is the military.

I've wondered why we've refrained from pro-democracy contacts with the Iranian people. Apparently, the Bush administration is investing everything in Iraq, and didn't want to promote instability in Iran because that could worsen conditions in Iraq (since most of the Shiite militias have close ties to the mullahs).

Hopefully, that will change.

Posted by: pj at June 3, 2006 12:23 PM

Ahmedinejad is a separate power focus from either the mullahs or the military.

Posted by: oj at June 3, 2006 12:26 PM
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