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DATE=3/4/2000
TYPE=ON THE LINE
TITLE=ON THE LINE: THE IRANIAN ELECTIONS
NUMBER=1-00827
EDITOR=OFFICE OF POLICY - 619-0037
CONTENT=
THEME: UP, HOLD UNDER AND FADE
Anncr:	On the Line - a discussion of United 
States policy and contemporary issues.  This week, 
"The Iranian Elections." Here is your host, Robert 
Reilly.
Host:	Hello and welcome to On the Line. In 
recent voting, Islamic reformists gained control 
of Iran's parliament for the first time since the 
1979 revolution brought an Islamic fundamentalist 
regime to power. The reformists won one hundred 
seventy seats out of a total of two hundred 
ninety. Some observers say that President Mohammad 
Khatami is now in a position to move forward with 
reforms. But others warn that the key institutions 
in Iran are still controlled by Iran's rigidly 
fundamentalist supreme leader, Ayatollah Khamenei. 
Meanwhile, a senior U.S. military commander, 
General Anthony Zinni, told the U.S. Congress that 
Iran remains the greatest long-term threat to the 
U.S. in the Middle East. General Zinni cited 
Iran's support for terrorism and its programs to 
develop weapons of mass destruction and the 
missiles to deliver them. 
Joining me today to discuss the Iranian elections 
are three experts. Roscoe Suddarth is president of 
the Middle East Institute and a former U.S. 
ambassador to Jordan. Azar Nafisi is a visiting 
professor at the Johns Hopkins School for Advanced 
International Studies. And Suzanne Maloney is a 
research associate at the Brookings Institute.
Mr. Suddarth, this parliamentary election follows 
upon municipal elections last year, in which the 
reform group did stunningly well, which followed 
the 1997 upset election of President Khatami. Does 
all of this translate into an irreversible force 
of reform in Iran?
Suddarth: It sure looks like a trend to me, Bob. 
People have put great store by the fact that there 
is a generational change. You have a greater and 
greater proportion of the population that is very 
young. And with the voting age now at sixteen, it 
was fifteen before, you have youth who are voting. 
You have the women who have voted very decisively 
on liberal issues. From the U.S. point of view, I 
think it is a very encouraging trend.
Host:	Why from the U.S. point of view? What does 
this promise to change?
Suddarth: Because it is an open society that they 
are moving toward. It is a society under Mr. 
Khatami that is calling for a dialogue and for 
people-to-people ties, at least with the United 
States. And I hope that, over time, the two 
regimes will be able to signal one another 
sufficiently that we will be able to compose some 
of these differences. Iran is too important a 
country to be left in isolation. 
Host:	Azar Nafisi, do you agree with that?
Nafisi:	Yes, I do. I just wanted to add to what 
Ambassador Suddarth was saying about this 
generational change, apart from the very important 
role the youth as a whole have played in these 
elections and overall in the change toward more 
pluralism. We also have the young revolutionaries 
within the Islamic regime, who, at the time of the 
revolution, were eighteen or twenty. Most of the 
pro-democracy journalists, like Mr. [Akbar] Ganji, 
they were about eighteen or twenty at the time of 
the revolution. And over the years, two things 
happened. They became more demoralized with the 
ideological system of the Islamic regime, and they 
became more and more open towards democratic 
views. And I think that this sort of movement, 
from both within the religious hierarchy and from 
without, it is going to be very positive.
Host:	Suzanne Maloney, can you have a theocratic 
democracy?
Maloney: That is a very interesting question. But 
I think what we are seeing in Iran is that the 
democracy is moving much faster than the theocracy 
is. The theocracy has not made a lot of progress 
since 1979 in terms of establishing itself. Yet 
each year, we are seeing more and more insistence 
on political participation of Iranians, 
particularly of young Iranians, and more and more 
insistence on transparency and accountability from 
the government. If that is not democracy, I am not 
entirely sure what is. Iran is the most 
pluralistic country in the region by far. And that 
is a trend that has been going on for at least a 
decade, and probably longer. 
Host:	Yet still, the institutions of the Iranian 
regime are intact, with Ayatollah Khamenei 
controlling the military, the media, and the 
judiciary. And the Council of Guardians are a 
brake, are they not, on anything this parliament 
may do? How far can reform go before the clerical 
regime says, you have overstepped yourselves?
Suddarth: Well, I guess that is the big question 
now with a large majority in the Majlis 
[parliament]. And if they start voting positive 
legislation, it can be vetoed by the Council of 
Guardians. But as an Iranian said to me, they can 
only dare veto so many things; otherwise people 
will be in the streets. And from the other 
viewpoint, they will not be putting in bad 
legislation, such as the press law. So everyone 
has a lot of hope. On the other hand, there is 
always the possibility that somebody in the 
Revolutionary Guard feels things have gone too far 
and moves in. Yet most people say that what 
brought the Shah down was the spilling of blood. 
So I think the clerical regime has been very 
careful not to use too much force. And I think it 
is under more pressure not to do that now. So I am 
hopeful that there will not be a large counter-
revolution, but who's to say?
Host:	What is the potential for that, Azar 
Nafisi?
Nafisi:	Also, I think that, right now, what is 
happening in Iran is not so much polarization in 
terms of the hard-liners and the reformists. There 
is more division, clarification and exclusion. I 
mean, who is the hard-liner, who was the real 
opponent of the "reformist line" in this 
revolution? Was it Ayatollah Khamenei or was it 
the former president whom we did call reformist, 
[Ali Akbar Hashemi] Rafsanjani? 
Host:	What is the answer to that?
Nafisi: The answer to that question, as far as we 
can see, is that Rafsanjani was really the main - 
I hate to use these polarized words in themselves 
- enemy. But he was the main antagonist in this 
show. And people pointedly went to the polls not 
just to vote for the pro-democratic forces, which 
they did, but also to vote against Rafsanjani. It 
was the same type of protest vote that they did 
during Mr. Khatami's election. They were saying 
"no" to a system. And there is another point. I 
think that, not just for the hard-liners, but for 
many people in the clerical hierarchy, reform is 
equal to revolution. What is the reform? We don't 
want a theocracy. Basically, that is what they are 
saying. And that is why they are coming so 
violently. But it is not just wishful thinking to 
say that it is irreversible. 
Host:	You think it is?
Nafisi: I don't think that we can go back anymore.
Host:	Tell me, Suzanne Maloney, President 
Khatami, some people suggest, has had the longest 
political honeymoon of any political leader. He 
has been in there since 1997 as a reformer, as a 
proponent of rule of law and, as Mr. Suddarth 
mentioned, a dialogue of civilizations, and so 
forth. However, he could always turn to the fact 
that he is opposed by this parliament. Now he is 
going to have seventy-percent support in the 
parliament, or more. What is the next thing we 
expect to see this parliament do?  What is the 
reform agenda?
Maloney: Khatami has a little bit of breathing 
space now, but he also has a lot of pressure 
because he will be facing a campaign for 
reelection in about another year that will begin 
to heat up. So there is a lot of pressure on him 
to actually come through at this point. 
Host:	What does "coming through" mean?
Maloney: Looking closely at his record, you see he 
is a very smart guy. Khatami is very savvy about 
picking the battles. He is also very good at 
appealing to the average Iranian on the street. He 
has this kind of charisma that sends girls at 
universities fainting and sobbing. It is unclear 
exactly what the real agenda of this reformist 
parliament will be. There are those who will argue 
that economic reform is going to be on top of the 
list. There are those who argue that they will be 
looking to sort of feel-good measures, political 
and social and cultural reforms, things like 
repealing the ban on satellite dishes. I tend to 
think that they are going to have to focus very 
clearly and immediately on economic reform, but 
that actually is the harder of the agendas that 
they will have. 
Host:	In fact, Roscoe Suddarth, some people say 
that the really difficult times are about to begin 
because the so-called reformists really are not 
bound together by anything other than their 
antipathy to the clerical regime. And there is not 
a common program for reform even in the economic 
area. Some of them are for privatization of state 
enterprises. Some of them oppose it.
Suddarth: Well, that is true. I think most people 
agree that the primary movement will be toward 
political reform and opening up the society, 
perhaps political parties being allowed. The 
Iranians seem to be interested in that for the 
moment more than they are in the economy. I think 
they realize that the entrenched interests of the 
clerics, particularly in the foundations, the 
bonyads which control eighty percent of the gross 
national product of the country -- they are 
enormous - will be very hard to take apart. They 
are not even put in as part of the budget. They 
are not transparent at all. So if he can start 
moving in the direction of political reforms, 
transparency and things like that, I think that 
the Iranians will be patient with him.
Host:	Do you agree?
Maloney: They have begun to do that with some 
changes that were made even before these 
elections. Last summer, you saw a new head 
installed at the judiciary. So there you do not 
have direct control by Khatami, but you have 
someone who has come into that position willing to 
make reforms, willing to work with the president. 
The same is true at the largest of these 
foundations. The Bonyad-e Mostazafan [Foundation 
for the Oppressed] also received a new head last 
July, someone who has pledged to work very closely 
and has been criticized already by the previous 
head for working so closely with the government 
and being so cooperative. So you are already 
starting to see this movement in favor of greater 
control by the central government. And if he is 
able to further that sort of thing over the next 
six months, it will be a major accomplishment.
Suddarth: But you know you are right, I think, 
that the people backing Khatami - that you have a 
lot of statists, people from the [former Iranian 
president] Bani Sadr [and former Iranian prime 
minister Mir Hussein] Musavi tradition who believe 
that the primary thing is equity, that you should 
take care of the poor, that you should have the 
state controlling things. They are not at all 
interested in private enterprise, foreign 
investment, all the sort of things that, I think, 
are necessary for Iran to become prosperous. 
Host:	And to solve a twenty-percent unemployment 
problem, right?
Nafisi: Yes, that is one of the main problems, and 
that is why I was saying, when we talk about 
reformists, they are not a homogenous group. Both 
in terms of politics as well as the economy and 
culture, they do have a lot of things to solve and 
to sort out. So I think you will see divisions 
within all camps. Especially on the question of 
the economy, there are many divergent views. As 
Ambassador Suddarth said about Mir Hussein 
Musavi's government, and also people like [former 
Iranian editor of Salaam newspaper, Mohammad 
Musavi] Khoeiniha, all these people who are to the 
right of the current popular reformists would all 
be very afraid of an open society, an open 
economy. But I also wanted to say about President 
Khatami that I always thought that President 
Khatami's position was paradoxical. On the one 
hand, he would like to keep the status quo and he 
belongs to the prestigious revolutionary 
tradition. He has been there from the start. On 
the other hand, he has an agenda and he has come 
with a platform that is very democratic in many 
ways. So he has been vacillating at times between 
these two, and it is a very precarious line to 
tread. And you saw that in the student 
demonstrations. I think that, with the student 
demonstrations, President Khatami had to take 
sides, or had at least to make public statements 
which did alienate many groups within the 
students. There are still unsolved problems, the 
murders and the students, because now we have the 
police on trial, but not their vigilantes who were 
the real cause of the trouble. All the student 
groups condemned this. So we have all these 
problems to face. In order for Iran to move 
forward, you need experts and you need to create a 
trust for the Iranians to go back, for the West to 
open up. And I think that those who are in favor 
of a state economy do not have much place to go.
Host:	How might the results of this election 
translate into changes in foreign policy, Suzanne 
Maloney?
Maloney: I think this parliament is not going to 
have a great deal of control over the three main 
issues that concern U.S. foreign policy in 
particular, and that is terrorism, support of 
groups that are rejectionist against the Arab-
Israeli peace process, and development of programs 
for weapons of mass destruction. The parliament 
does not have specific responsibilities over those 
three areas. And so I don't think we are going to 
see any immediate changes. But what we are seeing 
is this culture of transparency and accountability 
and the culture of criticizing and discussing 
everything that is slowly going to move into those 
three areas. There are problems at home that are 
probably going to occupy most of the Majlis's 
time, at least in its early sessions. But I would 
also suspect that a parliament that is struggling 
with some of the big issues of how do you enact 
economic reform when you have major philosophical 
differences about it, might look toward some easy 
gains that might be made by reaching out on 
foreign policy. And they have seen how successful 
that has been over the past year or so. 
Host:	What did you think, Roscoe Suddarth, about 
the reaction of the United States government to 
the results of this election?
Suddarth: Well, I think they have been quite 
positive. We are, however, at the end of an 
administration. [President Bill] Clinton sees a 
strategic opening in Iran, but I happen to be 
somewhat pessimistic. I could see the 
administration, for instance, doing a few small 
gestures like allowing oil swaps or even perhaps 
the importation of rugs from Iran, which would be 
enormously positive. But as we move toward the 
elction, [Vice President Al] Gore, I think, is 
committed to not only a pro-Israeli stand, but for 
similar reasons the East-West pipeline, which 
denies Iran transit of oil and gas coming to 
Turkey and the West. And what generally happens is 
that the vice president, since this is a minor 
foreign policy issue for America, even though 
people in the Middle East think it is major -- 
there is China, there is Russia, there is the 
World Trade Organization, there are a whole bunch 
of things. I think he would prevail on Clinton to 
go slow on Iran. Clinton has the whole peace 
process that he has got to worry about. So I would 
see limited gestures from the United States during 
this period. 
Host:	There already have been a few limited 
gestures from president Clinton on spare airline 
parts and lifting sanctions against foreign 
companies doing business in the oil industry in 
Iran.
Maloney: The major change in the sanctions law was 
one which assisted U.S. agriculture, because it 
allowed our agricultural companies and medical 
companies to export things to Iran. What the 
Iranians are looking for is something that helps 
their economy. And I agree with 
Ambassador Suddarth. I do not think we will see 
major gestures in the short term. There will be 
this window of opportunity come November, when you 
might see the administration more free to act, and 
obviously they are interested in what is happening 
in Iran as part of a larger process of dealing 
with the Middle East.
Host:	On the other hand, we saw president 
Khatami in Damascus last summer meeting with the 
heads of Hezbollah and Islamic Jihad, expressing 
his support. So how likely is it, even with him, 
that there would be a breakthrough on any of these 
issues that are so important to the United States 
-- on terrorism, the Israeli-Arab peace process, 
and weapons of mass destruction?
Nafisi: That is one of the problems that Iran 
faces. It is a domestic problem that they have to 
solve first because they also have to be able, 
first of all, whatever they say in private, they 
have to able to back it up with some public 
action. And what happens is that many Iranian 
politicians might want very good relations with 
the U.S., but publicly their hands are tied.
Host:	One Iranian candidate even said, why don't 
we have a national referendum on reestablishing 
relations with the U.S.?
Nafisi: You see, for example, Mr. [Kamal] Kharrazi 
[Iranian foreign minister]. On one hand, he takes 
steps toward more dialogue. On the other hand, I 
think it was in an interview in Newsweek where he 
says that we don't recognize Israel's existence. 
Israel does not exist. Or on Salman Rushdie, he 
now says we never took back what we said about 
Salman Rushdie. The point is that they have to be 
able to move domestically to a point where the 
foreign minister can give assurances and be able 
to back it up.
Host:	I'm afraid that's all the time we have 
this week. I would like to thank our guests -- 
Roscoe Suddarth from the Middle East Institute; 
Azar Nafisi from the Johns Hopkins School for 
Advanced International Studies; and Suzanne 
Maloney from the Brookings Institute-- for joining 
me to discuss the Iranian elections. This is 
Robert Reilly for On the Line. 
Anncr:	You've been listening to "On the Line" - a 
discussion of United States policies and 
contemporary issues.  This is --------.
03-Mar-2000 11:14 AM EDT (03-Mar-2000 1614 UTC)
NNNN
Source: Voice of America
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