Voice from the Commonwealth
Commentary, World Views and Occasional Rants from a small 'l' libertarian in Massachussetts

"If ye love wealth greater than liberty, the tranquility of servitude better than the animating contest for freedom, go home and leave us in peace. We seek not your council nor your arms. Crouch down and lick the hand that feeds you, and may posterity forget that ye were our countrymen." - Samuel Adams

Friday, April 18, 2003

An interesting assesment of the politics behind Iran's America dilemna.

After reformists made a few muted comments in the summer of 2002 on the virtues of re-engaging the United States diplomatically, members of the theocratic judiciary dubbed such ideas treasonous and promised severe punishment to anyone expressing them.

In this context, a statement by one of Iran’s most powerful figures started a political earthquake in Tehran shortly after American-led soldiers began occupying Iraq. On April 12, ex-president Hashemi Rafsanjani, a conservative who may be second only to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in his influence over policymakers, made a carefully-worded statement during an interview which advocated open official dialogue with the United States. He even went so far as suggesting that a referendum – long a favorite weapon of the reformists – might be the best vehicle for achieving this goal.

These comments appeared in Rahbord, a conservative journal published by a think tank connected to the organization that Rafsanjani chairs. They appeared a day after the Supreme Leader had made one of his customary verbal attacks on the United States, leading to speculation that Rafsanjani had acted on his own. However, in the view of longtime observers, the shrewd and mercurial ex-president would probably have never countenanced making such a bold proposal unless the Supreme Leader himself had endorsed it. Therefore the question before the Iranian conservatives is not whether they are finally ready to open dialogue with the country they call the "Great Satan," but how and on whose terms.

Hardliners would very much like to conduct the talks – assuming that the Bush administration is ready to reciprocate – while bypassing reformists in the legislature and the president’s office. In the Rahbord interview, Rafsanjani made a veiled criticism of President Mohammed Khatami’s Foreign Ministry. On April 16, the Iranian Republic News Agency quoted the president as saying that a referendum would be an inappropriate vehicle for a foreign-policy decision. At the same time, Khatami positioned himself for a role in any talks that might materialize. "If the United States adopts a peaceful approach, respecting [world] nations, it will serve its long-term interests. The United States’ capabilities can contribute to peace and progress of the human society," he said, describing his country as "never in favor of tension."

Both conservatives and reformists want to minimize concessions to the Americans while protecting the country from a devastating invasion or a destabilization campaign. At present the Bush team attaches several prerequisites to the resumption of ties. These include demands that Iran renounce all nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction, end support for Hezbollah and other armed groups abroad, and affirm an eventual Israeli-Palestinian peace accord. All these issues contain many complexities and potential snarls.

< email | 4/18/2003 12:24:00 PM | link

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