January 30, 2014


Time is ripe for US to embrace Iran (Farhang Jahanpour, 1/29/14, Asia Times)

[T]he constitution that was approved in a referendum was quite progressive on paper, with the big exception of the inclusion of Velayat-e Faqih (the rule of the religious guardian) and clerical boards, such as the Guardians Council that supervises the selection of presidential and parliamentary candidates. 

These powers have certainly compromised and restricted Iranian democracy, but they have not diminished the thirst of the Iranians for democracy and freedom. The elections have also been far from rubber stamps for official candidates, but have often produced many surprises. 

Up to a week before the 1997 election, a senior conservative cleric Ali Akbar Nateq-Nouri who was the establishment candidate was expected to win. However, Mohammad Khatami's reformist campaign attracted the biggest turnout in the history of Iranian presidential elections and he won with over 20 million to Nateq-Nouri's 7 million votes. 

President Khatami initiated a period of major social reforms at home and a policy of rapprochement with the West. He called for a dialogue of civilisations and even proposed a grand bargain to the US in 2003 covering Iran's nuclear programme, the Arab-Israeli conflict and Persian Gulf security. 

However, in return, he was rewarded with President George W Bush's inclusion of Iran in the Axis of Evil. The rejection of Iran's outstretched hand strengthened the hardliners and led to the victory of the right-wing candidate Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in the 2005 election. In 2009 again the majority of people voted for the reformist candidate Mir-Hoseyn Mousavi, but Ahmadinejad was declared the winner in what many people regarded as a rigged election. 

Millions of Green Movement supporters demonstrated in the streets, but they were put down by force, and Iran and the world had to endure four more years of Ahmadinejad's rule. 

When Hassan Rouhani declared his candidacy for the June 2013 presidential election, opinion polls put his popularity at only five percent, but an energetic campaign with promises of greater freedoms at home and a policy of engagement with the West brought more than 72% of the electorate to the polling stations, and he won in the first round with about 51% of the vote. 

The main candidate of the hardliners, Saeed Jalili, only received just over 11% of the vote and the other conservative candidate, former foreign minister Ali Akbar Velayati who has been the Supreme Leader's foreign policy advisor for many years received just over six percent of the vote. 

While the president has to balance his powers with a number of other influential players, including the Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, the conservative clerics and the Revolution Guards, nevertheless, he is the chief executive and his policies can make a huge difference in both domestic and foreign policies. 

Within the first 100 days of his tenure, Rouhani reversed 34 years of mutual hostility with the US and reached a landmark agreement in face-to-face negotiations between Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Zarif and the US Secretary of State John Kerry. 

The agreement limits Iranian nuclear activities and virtually makes it impossible for Iran to move towards a breakout without being detected in plenty of time by the International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors who have been given the power of daily inspection of Iranian sites. A rapprochement with Iran helps calm the situation in a turbulent Middle East, reduces hostility towards Israel, helps America with her withdrawal from Afghanistan and fighting al-Qaeda and the Taliban. 

A country of 80 million youthful and educated people, with the world's largest gas and the second largest oil deposits can provide a huge market for the West. If Iran's outstretched hand is once again rejected, it would send a message to Iranians that the West is not sincere in her dealings with Iran.

Posted by at January 30, 2014 2:07 PM

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