FOX News: State Department officials for President George H.W. Bush and President George W. Bush disagree on whether Friday's presidential election in Iran will have an impact on Tehran's relations with the U.S.
State Department officials for President George H.W. Bush and President George W. Bush disagree on whether Friday's presidential election in Iran will have an impact on Tehran's relations with the U.S.
As Iran's two leading candidates prepare to face off in Friday's presidential election, questions abound over whether the vote will have any impact on Tehran's key policies — and its relationship with the U.S.
President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is locked in an increasingly tight race against reformist candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi, who has blasted the Iranian leader's campaign ethics and accused him of manipulating statistics to hide the country's troubling financial straits.
Mousavi also has attacked Ahmadinejad for his denial of the Holocaust and for isolating Iran from the rest of the world.
But the election — though highlighting deep political divides — will have little effect, if any, on Iran's relations with the U.S., says Lawrence Eagleburger, former secretary of state under President George H.W. Bush.
"If the elections mean anything, it will be to force some changes within Iran but will have very little impact on our bilateral relationship," Eagleburger said.
Iran's key policies are dictated by the country's ruling Islamic leaders, who have so far rejected overtures from the U.S. and its allies to suspend uranium enrichment.
The president has control over certain domestic policies and serves as the international face of the country. But the non-elected theocracy, headed by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, oversees all major decisions and directly oversees key government posts such as the foreign, intelligence and defense ministers.
But former top Iran negotiator and U.S. Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Nicholas Burns hardly downplayed the significance of Friday's elections. On issues of nuclear enrichment, Burns said that it "does matter who the president of Iran is, but what matters more is the position of the Supreme Leader."
"The election on Friday is going to be consequential in the sense that the candidates are clearly different in ideology and style — and there seems to be a stronger reformist element in Iranian politics," he said.
Ahmadinejad, whom Burns described as a "complete disaster," has described Iran's nuclear program as the country's "right." He has offered to debate President Obama at the United Nations, but he has rejected Obama's call for open dialogue.
Mousavi, who was Iran's prime minister during the 1980-88 war with Iraq, has supported his country's pursuit of a peaceful nuclear program, though has expressed an openness to an international consortium overseeing uranium enrichment. He has garnered widespread support among young Iranians and has vowed to improve relations with the U.S. if elected.
Ahmadinjead, who has publicly denied the Holocaust, said Wednesday that Mousavi and other pro-reform candidates have resorted to "Hitler's methods" for spreading "lies" and insulting the president — a crime punishable by jail time.
"Such insults and accusations against the government are a return to Hitler's methods, to repeat lies and accusations…until everyone believes those lies," Iran's Fars news agency quoted Ahmadinjead as saying during a speech in Tehran.
Ahmadinjead's supporters have also accused Mousavi of trying to launch a "velvet revolution" — alluding to the 1989 ouster of the communist government of then-Czechoslovakia.
Former Revolutionary Guard commander Mohsen Rezaei and former parliament speaker Mahdi Karroubi are also candidates in the race.
A simple majority — 50 percent plus one vote — is needed to win the presidency. If no candidate attains that Friday, a second round will be held between the two top candidates on June 19.
A recent poll of Iranian citizens showed that many Iranians want their country to adopt democratic institutions like free elections and a free press.
"I expect — or at least I hope — that the reformists will be strengthened as a result of the elections," Eagleburger told FOXNews.com. "Reform seems to be in the wind, and I expect that it will lead to pressure for greater democracy within Iran."
There also remains a widespread willingness to stage unconditional negotiations with the U.S. following nearly three decades of diplomatic estrangement between the two countries, according to the poll conducted for Terror Free Tomorrow and for the New America Foundation.
In his speech to the Muslim world last week, Obama said countries — including Iran — have the right to build peaceful nuclear programs and called for dialogue between the U.S. and Muslim countries.
"I very much support what President Obama has been trying to do, which is in essence to open the doors to possible negotiations following the elections," said Burns. "I think that puts the United States in a very good position."
Still, Eagleburger said, the election outcome will do little, if anything, to alter policies that have troubled the U.S. and international community.
"The election should have little impact on U.S.-Iranian relations," he said.
Whatever the outcome, Burns said, "We're ultimately going to have to see actions, not just nice sentiments, from the Iranian leadership."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.