Did the Election Reflect Iranian Opinion?

Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, was probably being accurate when he said on State television on Tuesday night that voters, regardless of who they voted for, support the Islamic Republic. U.S. and European reporters and commentators who have little first-hand knowledge of the country have a terrible tendency to interpret events there in very Western ways.  

Polling data pulled together by Ken Ballen and Patrick Doherty ahead of the elections did not pick up an impending revolution and the pollsters argued in a thoughtful article in the Washington Post on Monday that the “election results in Iran may reflect the will of the Iranian people.”  The poll they conducted by phone between May 11 and May 20 had Mahmoud Ahmadinejad enjoying a huge lead over challenger Mir Hossein Mousavi –even among Azeris. Iran, of course, is not just Tehran and too many U.S. commentators seem not to appreciate that the middle-class in Tehran don’t necessarily reflect the majority view. 

But how the regime deals with the protests aginst the results is going to be a crucial determining factor in how the Islamic Republic will be viewed in the future by Iranians. In the Ballen/Doherty poll even supporters of Ahmadinejad indicated their hope for change — more democracy, the right to vote for the Supreme Leader, and free and fair elections and a free press were seen as priorities and not just for Mousavi supporters but by those planning to vote for the incumbent president. If those hopes are crushed, even many Ahmadinejad supporters could become disaffected. The authorities are caught between a rock and a hard place: maintain a hardline position and risk widespread disaffection, back down and encourage the opposition to demand more reform.

President Obama has come in for criticism from Republicans for not being out front enough but his approach reflects real maturity and sophistication. If Washington DC starts blasting away with all rhetorical guns blazing more than likely that will help the hardliners by allowing Ahmadinejad to rally patriotic Iranians. After all surely the point is that the protests don’t mark a rejection of the Islamic Republic but a determination by some to purify and modernise it.

Ahmadinejad-Obama — Will There be a Sit-Down?

At last Iran might be about to take up President Obama’s olive branch. Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad told a crowd in Kerman, south-eastern Iran, that he is preparing new proposals to break the nuclear deadlock with the West. He couldn’t resist a dig at the US but still his tone was less aggressive than last week when Obama first raised the idea of negotiations. There are also reports that Obama is ready to drop the Bush-era insistence that talks can’t start until Iran has halted uranium enrichment.

The Iran Nuclear Policy Group, a collection of progressive American academics and former US diplomats, has been calling since the fall for the US to drop that demand. They also came out last week with an excellent White Paper outlining a very practical strategy for how to resolve the nuclear stand-off. Among the paper’s points: America’s most effective leverage over Iran in the current nuclear standoff is to be found not in the bad things Washington can do to Iran, but in the good things – things Iran needs – that America can withhold. The paper builds on the insight that Iran is ultimately likely to prove far easier to co-opt than to coerce.  

Effective U.S. diplomacy requires Washington to do three things, the paper says:

·        Cease raising tensions by publicly hyping the Iranian threat;

·        Ease tensions and build confidence through a broader opening to Iran in other areas (as the Administration is doing); and

·        Re-define U.S. bargaining objectives on the nuclear file to focus on the principal risk, which, in the case of Iran, is not a “breakout” from an openly-declared, IAEA-safeguarded facility, but a clandestine re-start of enrichment and/or weapons development.

 

The paper is worth a read and can be found here  http://americanforeignpolicy.org/

 One move that Iran could do to assist with the ongoing diplomacy would be to release American freelance journalist Roxana Saberi, who has been held on dubious spying charges since January.