The Great Debate

Iran election opens door to U.S. talks

Paul Taylor– Paul Taylor is a Reuters columnist. The opinions expressed are his own –

A wind of change is blowing through Iran, where hardline President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad faces an increasingly tough battle for re-election on Friday.

Whether or not Ahmadinejad fends off reformist Mirhossein Moussavi and two other candidates after a turbulent campaign, Iran is likely to be more open to talks with the United States on a possible “grand bargain” to end 30 years of hostility. Tehran will not give up its nuclear program, whoever wins. But it may be persuaded to stop short of testing or making a bomb.

There is a sense of deja vu about this election.

In 1997, a soft-spoken reformist, Mohammad Khatami, swept to a surprise landslide victory over the establishment candidate, Ali Akbar Nateq-Nouri, on a tide of young people and women clamoring for greater freedom. But after his supporters won control of parliament, the conservative clerical establishment used unelected institutions in Iran’s complex power system to neutralize Khatami and block his liberal agenda.

There is, however, a crucial difference this time.

The United States, which had a policy of “dual containment” of Iran and Iraq at the time, never seized the opportunity of Khatami’s victory to open a dialogue. Now, U.S. President Barack Obama is waiting with an outstretched hand and has made crucial gestures by accepting the Islamic Republic by its name, offering talks without pre-conditions and admitting Washington’s role in ousting nationalist Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadeq in 1953.

What to watch for in Iran’s presidential election

Suzanne Maloney– Dr. Suzanne Maloney is a senior fellow for foreign policy at the Saban Center for Middle East Policy. Maloney, a former U.S. state department policy advisor, recently  published the book “Iran’s long reach: Iran as pivotal state in the Muslim world.” The views expressed are her own. —

Iranians go to the polls on June 12 in what is shaping up to be the most contentious ballot in the thirty years since the overthrow of the Pahlavi monarchy and the establishment of the world’s first modern theocracy. The ballot will determine the political fate of Iran’s provocative president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and more broadly will signal the future of the country’s volatile political course and the prospects for improvement in its long-troubled relationship with Washington.

Iranian politics have become intensely personalized, focused for better and for worse around Ahmadinejad, a remarkable development considering his prior inexperience in national politics and the relatively limited authority of Iran’s presidency. By inserting himself in all of Iran’s most contentious debates and by asserting himself both on the domestic and international stage, Ahmadinejad has emerged as the focal point of Iran’s contemporary political landscape. As a result, the vote will serve as a referendum on Ahmadinejad’s notorious personality and policies – a reality underscored by the thinly-veiled vitriol directed at the incumbent in recent weeks.

Iran sanctions and wishful thinking

Bernd Debusmann - Great Debate
– Bernd Debusmann is a Reuters columnist. The opinions expressed are his own –

So what’s so difficult in getting Iran to drop its nuclear program? All it needs is a great American leader who uses sanctions to break the Iranian economy so badly that popular discontent sweeps away the leadership. It is replaced without a shot being fired.

That simplistic solution to one of the most complex problems of the Middle East was part of a keynote speech greeted with thunderous applause by 6,000 delegates to the annual policy conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). The speaker: Newt Gingrich, a former speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives and a likely Republican presidential candidate in 2012.