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.