2. No Hope for the Reformist Cause

The seekers of democratic reforms in Iran are still hoping for a miracle that will lift the ban the hard line Guardian Council clamped down on thousands of their candidates in the February 20 parliamentary election. The coming days are critical. However, DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s Iran experts believe they are deluding themselves and their cause is lost.

The government spokesman Abdollah Ramezan-Zadeh announced Wednesday, February 4, that elections would take place on time. The hard line supreme ruler Ayatollah Ali Khamenei declared there must be no postponements and any parties disturbing the progress of voting would be put on trial as offenders against Islam.

The reformist leaders understood what this means: not only had thousands of their members been barred from running for election, but if they complained too loudly they faced imprisonment.

One of the most radical members of the regime, Ayatollah Mesbah-Yazdi, said this week: “When the enemy stands ready to attack with sword unsheathed, repelling him takes precedent over any religious edict.” This cleric, who was one of the initiators of the fatwa ordering Muslims to wage jihad against America, views the 120 Majlis deputies who resigned in protest against turning the elections into a farce, as “enemies with unsheathed swords.” He does not hide his conviction that all 120 take their orders directly from George W. Bush, noting that in his last speech the US president again emphasized his resolve to promote democracy in the Middle East.

Reading the writing on the wall, the 83 pro-reform deputies who have been holding a sit-down protest outside parliament since January 11, quietly announced on Wednesday that their protest was over. They did not dare invite reporters and photographers to record the event.

Khamenei made an apparent concession by permitting the information office headed by an ally of Khatami, Hojateslam Ali Youness, to pass final ruling on the credentials of electoral candidates. However, Youness will not dare reverse the ban against the more than 2,000 candidates pronounced wanting in Islamic faith and in loyalty to the Islamic Republic.

In order to still protesting voices from the United States and around the world against the harsh distortion of a parliamentary election, DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s sources in Tehran report that the government passed a quiet word to Washington that the next Majlis, the most radical ever, will recommend opening a dialogue with the United States.

Welcoming signals have been flashed by the Bush administration. On a recent visit to Tokyo, American deputy secretary of state Richard Armitage asked Japanese officials to discreetly test the ground in Iran on the resumption of relations. The Japanese foreign minister was received warmly in Tehran a few weeks ago although Tokyo supports Washington’s insistence that Iran abandon its nuclear programs.

In the fuss over Iran’s election, international attention has been diverted from the debate the Majlis was to have held to ratify Iran’s signature on the Additional Protocol of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. The incumbent house is unlikely to get around to this in its remaining two weeks before elections.

The heads of the Vienna-based nuclear watchdog insist that there is nothing to worry about and that a team of international inspectors is continuing its work in Iran and will soon be ready to submit a report to the agency’s board of directors meeting at the end of this month.

But, according to our sources, the Iranians are taking full advantage of the election furor to move forward with their scheme for a nuclear weapon.

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