Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Iran softening towards US

Iran softening towards US: "

Iran softening towards US
07/06/2005 12:07 - (SA)
Tehran - Iranian voters are more accustomed to hearing their politicians chant "Death to America" - but ahead of next week's presidential election the issue of relations with the US has been turned on its head.

It is an ironic shift for the Islamic republic, founded on the dogma of resisting "Zionist-American conspiracies" and priding itself on standing up to the "Great Satan".

But, as one Iranian analyst pointed out, "for most Iranians the breaking off of relations with the United States is the main cause of their problems, and many people want to give their next president a mandate to finally resolve the issue".

Iran's regime has tried but failed to stem public calls for reconciliation, most recently in 2002 when it jailed a group of opinion pollsters who published a shock survey saying that three-quarters of the population wanted to see dialogue with the United States resume.

The poll was particularly embarrassing for the regime, given that one of the organisers was Abbas Abdi - a leading player in the seizing of the US embassy in Tehran in 1980 and the holding of its diplomats for 444 days, the crisis that prompted the severing of ties.

Abdi, however, was released last month by order of Iran's Supreme Court in a move which sent a signal that the regime was capable of displaying a pragmatic, and not knee-jerk, approach to the issue.

Overturning Abdi's conviction of "providing information to the enemies of the Islamic regime", the Supreme Court concluded that "Iran and the United States are not in a state of hostilities".

The issue has inevitably been thrust to the forefront of the election campaign.

Pushing for democracy

"It will be the first presidential election where international affairs are as important as domestic issues," said Mohammad Reza Khatami, leader of the main pro-reform party and brother of outgoing President Mohammad Khatami.

"The regime can no longer do as it wishes, and the free world is pushing for democracy in our region."

Even one of the main hardline candidates, former Revolutionary Guards commander and national police chief Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf, has noticed that something has changed.

Out campaigning across the country, he said he had observed that "people seem to think that all of our problems stem from our relations with the United States".

And speaking to AFP, Qalibaf appeared to be reluctantly prepared to swim with, rather than against, public opinion on the issue.

"As long as they threaten us, they will be called the Great Satan. But if the people think this issue is important..," he said, struggling to find the right words and steer his way through what is new ideological ground.

The desire for a fresh look at the issue is hardly surprising - US sanctions are, after all, a major headache for Iran's economy. Foreign investment is blocked, and billions of dollars of Iranian assets have been frozen in US banks for a quarter of a century.

Edited by Tisha Steyn"