Iran Keeps The West In A Guessing Game

Iran Keeps The West In A Guessing Game
April 20th, 2007  
Team Infidel

Topic: Iran Keeps The West In A Guessing Game

Iran Keeps The West In A Guessing Game
Los Angeles Times
April 20, 2007
Tehran's mixed signals on its nuclear program and other issues only add to the uncertainty about its intentions.
By Ramin Mostaghim and Louise Roug, Special to The Times
TEHRAN — Iran's president stood at the dais, scolding his nation's enemies. "The army stands against any aggressor and will cut off its hand," Mahmoud Ahmadinejad declared to the television cameras as soldiers and tanks filed by on the avenue before him.
The scene at Tehran's Army Day celebration this week was familiar. But the message was ambiguous.
Was the annual military procession a menacing exhibition of Iran's increasing power in the Middle East or simply a display of the regime's ability to defend itself against any attacker, as Ahmadinejad suggested?
Iran remains inscrutable to Western politicians and analysts who are deeply divided over Tehran's intentions in terms of its nuclear program and relationship with the West.
Mixed signals from Iranian politicians have compounded the problem. And because many Western observers can't be sure who truly wields power in Iran, they have difficulty gauging the significance of the varied rhetoric.
"When there are questions of resuming talks or relations with the U.S., there are contradictory remarks" from Iran, said Mohammed Ismael Hydari, chief editor of Khandani, a political magazine in Tehran. "But the West doesn't understand the real political weight of the people who are making the remarks."
Reading the tea leaves in Tehran might be particularly difficult for the U.S. because it has no diplomatic representation in Iran and only minimal contact with Iranian officials.
Who is speaking for Iran?
"We're sort of flying blind when it comes to decision-making in Iran," said Vali Nasr of the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, Calif. "The U.S. is setting the agenda; most of the assumptions and policies are set by the U.S. But the U.S. has the least amount of contact with Iran. The one country that is in the driving seat happens to know the least."
As a consequence, it's often unclear whether it is Ahmadinejad who speaks for Iran when he thunders from the podium or whether it is Ali Larijani, the powerful but more soft-spoken secretary of Iran's Supreme National Security Council.
Nor is it clear whether the two Iranians see eye to eye on how to deal with the U.S. and its allies or represent factions vying for power.
Top officials here do appear united in their insistence that Iran has a right to pursue a nuclear program, which they say is aimed solely at generating electricity but which Washington fears will lead to the manufacture of nuclear weapons.
However, statements this week exemplified different political tenors in Tehran.
"No matter how much you cry and no matter what you do, you can't make this nation give up even an iota of its rights," Ahmadinejad told a gathering in Fars province, according to the Fars News Agency, with a dig at the Bush administration: "If you imagine that you can speak to the nations through the language of force and violation of laws, you are making a big mistake, because the era of empires and kingdoms has come to an end."
Larijani and others struck more conciliatory tones, saying Iran has no intention of withdrawing from the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and is interested in talks with other nations.
Longtime observers of Iran believe that political fault lines exist between factions represented by Ahmadinejad and Larijani, who both ran for president in 2005, with the former emerging the victor. The two conservatives disagree about how to deal with the West and particularly the U.S., Iran's longtime foe and the leader of international efforts to dissuade Tehran from enriching uranium.
According to this view, Larijani, who previously has talked of rapprochement between the two nations, speaks for a more moderate faction.
"The moderates agree with the radicals that to enhance its influence Iran needs a nuclear weapons capability," Ray Takeyh, a Middle East fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, wrote in Foreign Affairs magazine this month. "But the moderates also believe in restraint…. They hope that by improving Tehran's relationship with Washington they can assuage U.S. concerns about Iran's nuclear development without having to abandon the program."
'Two dialects'
One Iranian observer, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the subject, said that Larijani had sought to resign several times since Ahmadinejad became president but that Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran's supreme leader, did not accept his resignation.
The observer, who is closer to Ahmadinejad's faction, criticized Larijani for appearing soft during a recent standoff with Britain. The dispute followed the arrest of 15 British sailors and marines accused by Iran of crossing into its territorial waters. Larijani went on British television to emphasize his nation's desire for a diplomatic solution, and Tehran eventually released the Britons.
However, some observers inside Iran caution against reading too much into the difference in tone of rhetoric or the internal squabbling, arguing that there are no fundamental political differences between Larijani and Ahmadinejad.
"The policies are expressed in two dialects," said Behzad Norfard, another analyst in Tehran. "These two dialects are orchestrated to confuse the West and buy time to achieve the predetermined goals," which could be industrial-scale uranium enrichment, he said.
The assumption is a division of labor among the Iranian politicians: Ahmadinejad is talking to Iranians while Larijani is talking to the West.
"Regarding uranium enrichment, the difference of their wording is clear: Ahmadinejad reiterates in the domestic arena that 'uranium enrichment is our red line and we will never budge or back down,' " said Abulfazl Amoee, a political scientist in Tehran. "But Ali Larijani says, 'Everything is negotiable, even uranium enrichment.' "
Said Hydari: "If sometimes somebody says something defiant or some remarks against the U.S. and its allies, it is for domestic consumption. Except for a very tiny minority, in today's Iran nobody is interested in military confrontation with the West."
Special correspondent Mostaghim reported from Tehran and Times staff writer Roug from Beirut.

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