IRAN: Tehran carefully rooting for Obama
Is Iran gunning for a victory by presidential candidate Barack Obama?
Despite the official line that it won’t make any difference who wins the U.S. presidency (after all, they say, America is totally under the thumb of “Zionists"), Iranians are watching the U.S. elections closely and rooting for a victory by the Illinois senator, who has said he's willing to agree to unconditional talks with Iran.
Not only is Obama’s middle name Hussein that of the prophet Mohammad’s grandson (revered as the saint of all saints by Iran’s majority Shiites) but the candidate’s foreign policy seems light years away from the saber-rattling of President Bush and Sen. John McCain, the presumptive Republican nominee.
"For those worried about another war in the world, John McCain is not a suitable candidate to take office,” said an April 16 editorial in the moderate daily Seda-ye-Edalat:
He is tough and rigid not only towards Iran but also towards Russia and China. Many experts believe that his victory will be a message to Iran, Russia and China to either review their policies or get ready for confrontation.
Contrast that to what Iranian elites say about Obama.
“I should say, he is a phenomenon, based on what he has said so far,” Sadegh Kharazzi, a former Iranian diplomat squarely in the reformist camp now out of power, said. “Unless he is drawn into traditional Democratic Party ways, his election as a president will be welcomed in Iran.”
Wrote the conservative daily Hamshahri on May 7:
Obama has adopted the friendliest strategies regarding Iran, because he believes that America should change its policy in dealing with Tehran, while other candidates have more hostile policies.
Iran is a hornet's nest for American presidents. Jimmy Carter lost the presidency in 1980 largely thanks to the ongoing hostage crisis. Ronald Reagan’s reputation was tarnished as a result of his underlings’ secret arms deals with Iran in what came to be called the Iran-Contra affair. George Bush the elder weathered arrows slung at him after he pardoned six officials busted in Iran-Contra during the waning days of his administration. Bill Clinton struggled first to isolate and contain Iran and then to encourage warmer ties after the election of reformist Mohammed Khatami as president in 1997.
George W. Bush now blames almost all of the world’s evils on Iran, which has become something of an administration obsession during the last year of his term.
Kharazzi said that in general Republicans and Democrats have tried to overthrow or undermine Iran’s system, with the GOP practicing what he called “hard subversion” using covert operations and the Dems more prone to “soft subversion,” such as propaganda and tough diplomacy.
“Until now the difference has been in the tactics of subversive actions against Iran,” he said.
The election of Obama, who has said he would engage in talks with Iran’s leadership, could lead to direct negotiations between Washington and Tehran welcomed by many in Iran and the Middle East.
“By direct talks, I do not mean necessarily perfect normalization,” Kharazzi said:
It can be a prelude to further normalization in future. If Obama, as he has said, takes the initiative to start a breakthrough with Iran and avoids condemning or demeaning the Islamic Republic of Iran and avoids ignoring Iran in the region, if he shows goodwill, then goodwill begets goodwill, whether by Obama or any other candidate.
Certainly not all Iranians share Kharrazi’s enthusiasm for Obama or even for talks with the U.S. The Iranian moderates who approached the U.S. in 2003 with an offer (spurned by the Bush administration) to begin talks about Iran’s nuclear program and halt support for militant groups fighting Israel are out of power.
Now the U.S. has to deal with people like Mohammad Ali Ramin, a politician close to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and a self-described “founder of Holocaust review” studies.
“All presidents in the U.S. are the stooges of the Zionist gangs,” he said. “Whether the next president is Democrat or Republican, it does not matter to Iran as both type of presidents have been against Iranian nation in the contemporary history of Iran.”
Indeed Iranian officials seem highly sensitive to even the slightest hint they're backing one candidate or the other. Recently, Ahmadinejad stridently denied a Spanish newspaper report suggestion he was backing Obama:
I did not support Obama. I just gave the message that the American ruling system will not let Obama be elected. Even if all Americans vote for him, the U.S. ruling system will not allow Obama to be president.
Photo: Barack Obama. Credit: File photo
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