Thursday, July 02, 2009

Iran and the US (future)

The change in direction for Iran that was epitomized by Mir Hossein Mousavi now seems to have passed into the realm of the might have been - for the moment.

The argument is put forward that it does not really matter who is elected president, since the supreme leader ultimately makes the important decisions. But, as Karim Sadjadpour of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace pointed out on C-Span, Sunday (14), the president is the public face of the regime, especially on the international stage, whereas the supreme leader generally remains behind the scenes - or has done until now.

Edward Luce argues in the Financial Times (*)
[The neo-conservative's ]  view is that a democratic revolution in Iran would have positive effects across the region. [.. It] would see the error of its ways on the nuclear programme. [..]  None of the four candidates, including Mr Moussavi, argued that Iran should put an end to the nuclear fuel cycle. To have done so would have been electoral suicide. Almost all observers of Iran say that popular support in the country for the nuclear programme transcends political loyalty. It is a nationalist aspiration that is unlikely to vanish with the mullahs.
Mousavi may not have promised to end the drive towards nuclear programme in his campaign, but that does not mean that he would not have negotiated on the subject. And, given the enormous costs to Iran of their nuclear path, who knows how public opinion might not have evolved in the context of dialogue between the Obama administration and an Iran with Mousavi as president? Opinion in Iran is not quite as homogenous as Luce makes out: according to interviews on France Inter before the election, many are aware of the dangers brought by the uncompromising approach to the nuclear issues.

Minimising the policy differences between the candidates seems to me strange. In another analysis, also in the FT (**), Roula Khalaf says:
As Kayhan, the hardline newspaper, said in a recent editorial, Mr Moussavi crossed “red lines” when he described the leader-approved foreign policy of Mr Ahmadi-Nejad as a “disaster”. [..] As [Khamenei] admitted last week, his views are closest to Mr Ahmadi-Nejad’s. Politicians in Tehran say the leader appreciates the president’s elevation of Iran into a regional power to be reckoned with, as well as his dogged support for a nuclear programme.
By this analysis, President Obama's measured approach is a double-edged sword: 
Indeed, the election crisis must be seen in the context of the ayatollah’s apparent anxiety over a changing international environment, in which the America he has despised for so long is suddenly offering a friendly hand.
* 'Global Insight: Obama’s pragmatism avoids neocon trap', 21 June 2009

** 'Man in the news: Ayatollah Ali Khamenei', 26 June 2009, with Najmeh Bozorgmehr.

Also, worth listening to are John Simpson's thoughts, first broadcast on BBC Radio 4 on Thursday (25) - the World Service version can be found here (27 Jun).