Sunday, March 9, 2008

New Poll of Iranians Released; The Upcoming Parliamentary Elections; Dealing with the Nuclear Program

The Washington Post reports on a new poll of Iranians, with interesting results:

  • Almost 90 percent of those polled want the supreme leader--who "can veto legislation, presidential actions, judicial decisions and candidates for office"--to be popularly elected and accountable.

  • 1/3 of voters support neither the conservative nor the reformist camp; 8 percent back the former, 22 percent the latter.

  • 42 percent are optimistic on the economy (the figure was 27 percent last June).

  • Over 3/4 desire good relations and trade with the United States.

  • A majority support their nation's acquisition of nuclear weapons, but 70 percent--down from 80 percent last year--would forego such weapons and permit inspections for aid and investment.

  • About 60 percent are in favour of their government's support for Hezbollah, Shi'a militias in Iraq, and Palestinian militants.

  • 45 percent--down from 55 percent--would support recognizing Israel if this were one component of a wider U.S.-Iran bargain.

The prospects for reformists in Iran's upcoming parliamentary elections don't inspire much optimism, Newsweek informs us. The obstacles faced by journalist Kasra Noori, 38, in being allowed to run for Parliament are instructive:

But when he tried to register last year as a moderate candidate for the March 14 ballot, he found his path blocked by the Council of Guardians of the Revolution. The conservative group of clerics and lawyers, which supervises Iran's elections, was on a mission to exclude almost any reformist who dared to register as a candidate.

A few days after Noori submitted his name, the inspectors from Council of Guardians' Supervision Committees started asking about him around his neighborhood. "They went to my local grocer and asked him about my personal life," says Noori. "They asked him questions like if I look at women lustfully, if I go to the local mosque to pray, if my wife dresses modestly, what I buy from the grocer. Questions that had nothing to do with my qualifications as a candidate." Still, Noori considers himself relatively fortunate that the questions were so mild. In some cases the inspectors have asked candidates if they have had illegitimate relationships with women and whether they were addicted to drugs. There are no reports that conservative candidates have come under similar scrutiny. Indeed, in some cases the inspectors are conservative candidates themselves.

Like most disqualified moderates, Noori was expelled on three main charges: lack of real commitment to the teachings of Islam; lack of belief in velayate faghih, Iran's system of governance, in which a religious scholar is the supreme leader of the country; and "notoriety," a catchall phrase that is essentially meaningless. A devout Muslim from a religious family in Tehran, Noori objected to all charges. "As far as I know I'm a good Muslim, and it seems that I'm also enjoying a relatively good reputation in public," he says. Noori challenged the claims and was finally cleared of being "notorious," but he was still disqualified on the basis of the first two charges.

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, as reformists concede, continues to enjoy widespread support among residents of villages and small towns who have benefited from government handouts.

So for now the moderates are pursuing a two-tier approach. They want to have some presence in the parliament in order to keep their political presence alive. "If we didn't take part in the elections, the hardliners would have totally dominated the parliament, closed our offices, and that would be the end of us as reformist activists," says Shariati. Surviving, even with the tiny number of seats they're expected to win, will also allow the reformists to prepare themselves for the presidential elections in June 2009. But first the reformists have to deal with divisions within their ranks. The likely reformist candidates for the presidency are former president Mohammad Khatami and former speaker of the parliament Mehdi Karrubi—perhaps the only contenders with enough stature to prevent the Council of Guardians from disqualifying them from the race. The factions, however, have presented different lists of parliamentary candidates and display little inclination to mend fences.

Scott Ritter has written an excellent and concise article for on the issue of Iran's nuclear program. He explains:

With the IAEA now able to ascertain that the Iranian explanations about both the origin and use of its enrichment program are consistent with the information available to the IAEA, there no longer remains a technical justification for demanding the suspension of Iran's ongoing uranium enrichment activities. The IAEA has declared that it can account for all declared nuclear material in Iran and that it has adequate inspection and verification controls in place for the totality of Iran's declared enrichment program. The IAEA notes that it does not have conclusive evidence of any proscribed activities taking place inside Iran (documents made available to the IAEA by the United States, derived from sources of questionable origin, have been rejected by the Iranians as fabrications.)
Ritter calls upon the U.N. and U.S. government to lift all sanctions against Iran. The U.S. aim of ousting the Iranian regime must also be abandoned. These steps would help to begin a new chapter in the relations between the two countries, Ritter concludes.

Now is a good time to recall Iran's offer of 2003--thoughtlessly tossed aside by the warmongering Bush administration--whereby the regime would give the U.S. everything it wanted in exchange for the lifting of "sanctions, full access to peaceful nuclear technology and a recognition of its 'legitimate security interests.'" This offer shows a willingness on Iran's part to negotiate and to make serious concessions, as does the recent success the IAEA has had in learning more about the country's nuclear program. Talking to Iran isn't appeasement; it can produce the desired results without the needless expenditure of massive amounts of American blood and treasure.

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