Where in the World is the Moderate Ayatollah?
Hassan Dai

In the aftermath of National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iran, the question of how to deal with Iran’s nuclear ambitions has become the center of debate among the experts.  Dr. Gary Samore, vice President and Director of Studies of Council on Foreign Relations, has given a series of insightful presentations on this issue. In these, he has offered a balanced account of Tehran’s nuclear goals and the difficulty that the US and the international community face in countering these ambitions.

During his speech at Woodrow Wilson center on January 11th, 2008, after emphasizing the failure of US current policy toward Iran, Dr. Samore declared1:

"There is a growing argument here in the United States that the U.S. should offer to speak to Iran across the board on a full range of issues without any condition… It is quiet likely that the next administration is to at least try to engage with Iran directly without demanding the suspension as a condition.

… I have been thinking to see how to make such an approach successful. I start by asking to be very skeptical by recognizing that such approach is fraud with challenges and problems. …. I am not sure that a deal with Iran is possible."

 Dr. Samore correctly recognizes that Tehran’s leaders are not willing to reconcile differences with the US:

"There is no doubt that there is some people in Iran who would see the kind of incentives the US could put on the table as attractive. But I think the significant part of Iran's power establishment who would find those kinds of carrots to be very unattractive. They would be poisoned carrots because they (Iranian leaders) build their political situation on hostility with the US. And for them, a better relation with US represents a cultural clash and will also weaken their domestic political position."

Nevertheless, Dr. Samore leaves a small window of hope for the American decision makers2: 

"In this sense, the timing of an American decision to offer unconditional and broad negotiations with Iran needs to be carefully considered. If Iran is not on the verge of acquiring a nuclear weapons capability, it might make more sense to wait and see whether the 2009 Presidential elections in Iran produces a more pragmatic leader open to an overture from Washington."

This brings us (again) to a dominant feature of the assessments of  Iran Experts in the US who  relentlessly feed an unrealistic dream about an Iranian moderate faction ready to take power in Iran, engage with the US  and end 30 years of hostility.

Realists: One of the most important actors in Iran today is the powerful Secretary of the Supreme National Security Council, Ali Larijani. As the leader of a new generation of realists that evolved in the intelligence community in the 1990s, this cohort’s has predominant influence over the direction of Iran’s international relations. Through their presence in key institutions, links with traditional clerical community and intimate ties to the Supreme Leader, the realists chart the course of Iran’s foreign policy”

Trita Parsi, CFR's guest on January 7th goes even further and portrays Ahmadinejad as a president ready to reach out for reconciliation of differences and dealing with the US, but challenged by radical elements of the Guards.3 In discussing the Persian Gulf incident between the US and Iranian naval forces, he said:

"They have been -- and there probably still is -- elements in the Revolutionary Guards that are even more radical than Ahmadinejad, and may not be very happy about what seems to be going on behind the scenes:  some maneuvering between the United States and potential for some sort of a diplomatic breakthrough -- however small it yet may be, there's some indications. And this is an excellent way of being able to derail that. …."

1-  Prospects for an Iranian Nuclear Deal. http://www.wilsoncenter.org/index.cfm?fuseaction=events.event_summary&event_id=358734#
2- Options for Preventing a Nuclear-Armed Iran. Emirates Center for Strategic Studies and Research

Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates  December 5, 2007


3- US-Iran Relations: Past, Present, and Future, CFR


4-  Iran:Time for a New Approach. CFR, July 2004

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