Friday, February 04, 2005

The New Zealand Herald: Rafsanjani preparing rapprochement with the US

The New Zealand Herald: "Ayatollah vents fury at 'global tyrant'

Iranian leaders have reacted with predictable fury to President Bush's State of the Union speech, which picked out Tehran as a sponsor of global terrorism.

But as the country prepares for presidential elections in June, there are signs that the clear favourite, former president Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, may be preparing the ground for a new rapprochement with the United States.

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran's Supreme Leader, responded to Bush in a defiant televised statement, claiming that "the Islamic Republic of Iran, because of supporting the oppressed and confronting oppressors, is being attacked by the global tyrants". But, according to allies of Rafsanjani, the two-time former president may be planning to seek a "grand bargain" with Washington if he wins the June election, offering concessions on Tehran's nuclear programme.

Rafsanjani appears to believe a rapprochement with the US is in the best interests of Tehran, following the recent stream of hostile rhetoric from Washington. Recent press reports have also said US special forces are operating in Iran, while its airforce has carried out aerial sweeps to pinpoint radar and air-defence systems.

"Rafsanjani thinks he must resolve the problems with the US," said a close ally of the former president. "We should create opportunities for dialogue. On some regional issues like Iraq, Afghanistan, al Qaeda and Palestine, we have seen that we can have direct and co-operative talks."

In the absence of a genuine reformist candidate in June's election, Rafsanjani will aim to attract the votes of young people who are thought to prefer a more liberal candidate and who fear the rise of a genuinely conservative president. Several newspapers are already tipping him to win a third term and a number of potential opponents have signalled they will not run against him.

Much will depend on Rafsanjani's relationship with Khamenei, and other senior conservatives. The top officials may be open to improving relations with America as long as concessions are not made that could reduce their power.

One of the reasons conservatives have been mistrustful of reformist attempts to reach out to the West is their belief that such a move would boost the cause of radical liberals who wanted to destroy the theocratic regime."