Sunday, May 29, 2005

Sloppy Second-rate Journalism By Neil MacFarquhar of the New York Times - What a hack! - Iran's 'reform' candidate backs the status quo:

What a hack! JBOC

"Iran's 'reform' candidate backs the status quo
Change is a big theme in a nation unlikely to see any
New York Times

TEHRAN, IRAN - It is an election as contradictory as Iran itself: The front-runner is a pillar of the Islamic Revolution now cast as the man who can curb the excesses of hard-line clerics and improve relations with the country's boogeyman, the United States.

Indeed, this politician, Ali Akhbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, a former president and self-styled free-marketer, cloaks himself in the trappings of a reformist as carefully as he wears his tailored blue-grey clerical robes.

But in an interview, Rafsanjani sounds less than conciliatory. He says the United States is not a democracy, demands that it make the first concession and defends Iran's right to develop nuclear technology.

"There is only a veneer of democracy in the United States, and we have a real democracy," he said. "Election laws are so complicated in your country that people have no choice but to vote for one of the candidates who are with one of the two parties."

Rafsanjani, 70, may best embody the absurdities of the election, on June 17.

Political and social change is so popular that all candidates adopt the vocabulary and style of reform. Yet none of the eight candidates allowed to run wants to alter what many here see as their central problem: All power rests in the hands of an unaccountable, supreme religious leader who can overrule elected officials.

Thus Iranians are expected to avoid the polls with the same zeal with which they flocked to them in the past two elections, when they arrived full of hope that their votes would produce real change.

The other candidates hoping to succeed President Mohammed Khatami include one moderate cleric and four former senior officers in the Revolutionary Guards, whose loyalty to the supreme leader is unquestionable.

In this lineup, Rafsanjani is a compromise figure — the least distasteful conservative to the liberals and most liberal among the conservatives.

In his interview last week, Rafsanjani did not suggest re-establishing ties with Washington. But after detailing a long list of domestic and regional ills caused by the United States, he ventured that it was time to retire the past.

"It is not a priority for us, but the current state is not reasonable either," he said, repeating the demand he made as president that the first step should be the release of some $11 billion in Iranian assets frozen since the American Embassy in Tehran was seized for 444 days after the revolution.

Rafsanjani is a staunch supporter of Iran's developing its nuclear capacity for electric power and other uses but says he opposes nuclear weapons.

This contrasts with a sermon at a Friday prayer in 2001, however, in which he suggested just one nuclear bomb could solve the problem of Israel's threatening the region with its own nuclear arsenal."