After careful calculation, Tehran intervened publicly in the US presidential race Wednesday, Oct. 22, thirteen days before polling.
Iran’s speaker of parliament, Ali Larijani, a powerful conservative voice, went on record as stating that Tehran would prefer the Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama in the White House next year.
“We lean more in his favor because he is more flexible and rational,” said the Iranian official, “even though we know American policy will not change that much.”
Talking to the press during a visit to Manama, Bahrain, Larijani added: “This risk [of a US attack on Iran] was low before. But now I am 100 percent certain that the United States will not unleash a war against Iran. The economic crisis has cost the United States 1,400 billion dollars and Washington is working to resolve its internal problems and not a war.”
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s Iranian sources confirm that the Iranian parliamentarian would not have publicly endorsed the Democratic candidate without the highest possible authority from Tehran.
The former nuclear negotiator, seasoned in talks with Western diplomats, quite deliberately chose the venue for his statement. Bahrain is one of America’s closest allies in the Persian Gulf region and location of US Fifth Fleet headquarters.
The underlying message for Barack Obama was that if elected, he would be expected to acknowledge the Islamic republic’s standing as a regional power.
“We will have captured the White House as well”
Larijani was not the first Iranian leader to endorse the Democratic senator.
Last May, president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said that Obama’s election as president would be “a positive development for Tehran.” He added that he did not believe the senator would be allowed to win.
A senior cleric close to the Iranian president followed his remarks by saying: “If Obama is elected and the talks with Ahmadinejad come about, then we will have captured the White House as well.”
Since then, Iran’s rulers have assiduously followed the campaigns of the two candidates, Obama and his Republican rival Senator John McCain, carefully assessing their chances.
Wednesday, they placed their bet.
For Tehran, Obama’s main appeal lies in his acclaimed readiness to talk to Iran’s leaders.
Although the Democratic candidate qualified this by saying “Interlocutors should set a date to stop bidding unless Iran clarifies that there are conditions under which it would suspend uranium enrichment” (as DEBKA-Net-Weekly 368 reported last week),
On May 23, 2008, DNW 250 offered “A Projected Scenario for [Obama’s] Engagement with Ahmadinejad:
Long experience has taught DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s Iran experts that Tehran’s Islamist rulers are no ping- pong players; they have a built-in penchant for procrastination and interminable bargaining. They relish every twist and turn that gives them points against their opposite numbers and, above all, staves off a clear-cut outcome. For the Iranians, diplomacy is a happy occasion for bazaar-style haggling, rather than a tool for solving problems and reaching understandings.
More than once, European diplomats have tried their hand at direct engagement with Iran on its nuclear program; after each round, they raised their hands in defeat. They found themselves caught up in round after round of aimless palaver, while the Iranians took advantage of the idle talk to pursue the very nuclear, strategic and military goals which the talks were meant to abort.
No Americans need apply, only the president
For now, Tehran is excluding any American interlocutors except for the next president – preferably Barack Obama. Until then, the Iranians are blocking all gestures of friendship from American sources and efforts to thaw the contentiousness governing relations.
Earlier this year, President George W. Bush’s secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice, offered to set up a quasi-diplomatic presence in Tehran. She was snubbed.
On Oct. 4, the American Iranian Council (AIC) announced it had been granted US government permission to open an office in Tehran as the only US-based non-government organization focusing on peace and security issues to operate in Iran. Its purpose would be to promote governmental, NGO and person-to-person contacts between the US and Iran.
This week former Democratic Senator (D-Louisiana) Bennet Johnston, current head of a Washington publications relations company, appealed to his former colleagues for donations of $50 each to help the AIC get started.
But on Oct. 21, the project was killed before it was born by Tehran:
Interior minister Ali Kordan, made this contemptuous statement to reporters:
“The Interior Ministry will never issue permission for the American Iranian Council office to open in Tehran. It is the ministry which should make decisions on any request by countries. But no request has been submitted to the ministry to date.”
This announcement took the AIC and its backers in Washington by surprise. They view themselves as an informal pro-Iranian lobby in the US capital. They campaigned hard against the Bush administration’s advocacy of penalties and sanctions for Iran’s refusal to given up uranium enrichment and fought against any thought of a US military strike against the Islamic republic’s nuclear reactors.
Now the American Iranian Council finds itself shut out of Tehran and told in effect, like all Americans, however sympathetic: Don’t call us, we’ll call you.