OpinionIran in the World PressIran's new president walks a hard line

Iran’s new president walks a hard line

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USA TODAY: The election of Tehran’s mayor as Iran’s president consolidates power under supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and will bolster those in the United States who argue against engagement with Iran’s theocratic regime, some Iran analysts say. The victory of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad “very much strengthens the sense here that there is no use dealing with Iran,” said Shaul Bakhash, an Iran expert at George Mason University in Virginia. USA TODAY

By Barbara Slavin

The election of Tehran’s mayor as Iran’s president consolidates power under supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and will bolster those in the United States who argue against engagement with Iran’s theocratic regime, some Iran analysts say.

The victory of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad “very much strengthens the sense here that there is no use dealing with Iran,” said Shaul Bakhash, an Iran expert at George Mason University in Virginia. Bakhash predicted that the United States will move to isolate Iran and promote regime change, while diminishing any chance that U.S.-backed European negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program will succeed.

Ahmadinejad defeated former president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani in a runoff Friday. In a news conference Sunday, Ahmadinejad pledged to continue the nuclear talks and tried to reassure Westernized Iranian young people that he would not curb social freedoms expanded under outgoing President Mohammad Khatami.

“No extremism will be acceptable,” said Ahmadinejad, the son of a blacksmith and a former member of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards and Basij (paramilitary morals police).

However, in contrast to Rafsanjani — who promised to reach out to the United States — Ahmadinejad said, “Our nation … has no significant need for the United States.” Washington broke ties with Iran in 1980 when Iranian students, in the throes of revolution against the U.S.-backed shah, were holding 52 Americans hostage at the U.S. Embassy in Tehran.

The Bush administration rejected the legitimacy of the Iranian presidential elections in advance, citing the disqualification of more than 1,000 candidates by the Shiite Muslim clerical establishment.

Sunday, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld called Ahmadinejad “no friend of democracy” and “no friend of freedom.”

“He is a person who is very much supportive of the current ayatollahs, who are telling the people of that country how to live their lives,” Rumsfeld said on Fox News Sunday. “My guess is (that) over time, the young people and the women will find him, as well as his masters, unacceptable.”

Patrick Clawson, an Iran expert at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, said, “There had been some concern that if Rafsanjani won, the United States would have had to do something nice for him. With Ahmadinejad, there’s not going to be anyone who will argue that.”

Iranian officials who had supported Rafsanjani said they were disappointed but would continue to use the opportunities afforded by Iran’s quasi-democracy to advance better relations with the outside world and change within Iran.

“Reform is a reality in the society of Iran,” said Sadeq Kharrazi, Iran’s ambassador to France, in a telephone interview. He said reformers would regroup to try to regain a majority in municipal elections next year and parliamentary elections in 2008. Pro-Khamenei officials eliminated most reform candidates for both bodies in 2003 and 2004.

Kharrazi, a nephew of Iran’s foreign minister, also predicted that Khamenei would not change a sophisticated team that has been negotiating with the Europeans. Britain, France and Germany had planned to present a package to Iranian negotiators next month, offering trade and energy concessions in return for Iran giving up efforts to produce nuclear fuel. Iranian officials have refused; Ahmadinejad’s victory is likely to bolster a tough line.

“We need this technology for energy and medical purposes,” Ahmadinejad said Sunday. “We shall carry on with it.”

Clawson called the vote a victory for the generation of Iranians who fought the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war. The group has close ties to organizations such as the Revolutionary Guards, which have long backed Shiite militant groups in Lebanon and Iraq, and the Palestinians, who are regarded as terrorists by Israel and the United States, Clawson said.

The new president could be more absorbed with domestic issues. He has pledged to keep expensive subsidies on basic goods such as gasoline and to cut lending rates to individuals and small businesses. But foreign investors — who are needed to renovate Iran’s aging oil infrastructure — could be frightened off by such policies, which were tried in the 1980s and led to inflation and more poverty.

“At this point, the whole system is in shock,” said Farideh Farhi, an Iran expert at the University of Hawaii. “I am not sure even Ahmadinejad’s supporters have thought through the implications of his win.”

Contributing: Wire reports

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