June 30, 2003
A Look At Key Factors Behind The Recent Crisis
RN Editor Ali Nourizadeh
In Conversation With Mehrdad Khonsari
MK: The durability of the recent student protests around the country has been successful in capturing world attention. To what extent is this unprecedented movement, which began spontaneously capable of organizing itself for greater challenges? To what extent is the IRI capable of infiltrating, influencing and sidelining this popular movement?
ARN: It is foolish to think that a movement of this magnitude could have been orchestrated without some form of planning or organization behind it. There are strong indications that the regime - in the form of the Ministry of Information - may well have perpetrated the original protests which began on Tuesday afternoon some weeks ago. Their aim was to either hijack the movement being planned for 9 July or altogether stop it. But, the crucial role played by the various Iranian radio and television broadcasts (emanating from Los Angeles), was to prove highly provocative, in creating an unforeseen situation where the regime was ultimately outflanked. As a result, the protests began assuming a life of their own fuelled by a combination of various factors. Soon the messages being chanted by the protestors began to manifest themselves in a new scenario in which the movement had become largely hostile to all persons associated with the regime, including President Khatami. So, while at the start of these demonstrations, there might have been some plausible case to suggest that elements within the regime or its loyal opposition - namely the so-called reformers - were playing a leading role, as we speak, there are no doubts that slogans calling for Khatami to resign or those widespread chants calling for Khameneis demise have clearly gone beyond any previous red lines or thresholds that have been carefully observed in the past.
MK: To what extent has the role played by external powers - in particular the statements made by President Bush and Prime Minister Blair - been helpful in providing momentum to these protests?
ARN: There is no question in my mind that the public statement made by President Bush that was subsequently followed up by a similar well publicized statement from Prime Minister Blair, have both served to validate the justness of the cause which these young people have been protesting against in the past several weeks. In my view, while the US could not have been behind this matter, they are nevertheless, very pleased about its outcome. Moreover, their reaction and messages of support that have come by way of public statements from such senior officials, as Colleen Powell, Donald Rumsfeld and Condoleezza Rice have served to convey to the Iranian people that the most powerful nation on earth is behind them and their stand for freedom and democracy. To summarize, while there may be some reservations, particularly amongst certain intellectuals quarters, regarding the importance of these statements and the efficacy of the more uncompromising line that is being articulated by the US against the Islamic regime particularly in light of what has been previously experienced in Iraq back in 1991, it is my view that this new attitude has been crucial in lifting public spirits and giving heart and encouragement to ordinary people so that they may continue their struggle.
MK: Do you not think that Blairs comments that served to infuriate the leadership in Teheran was a marked point of departure from positions usually advocated by the British Foreign Office?
ARN: I believe that this statement was particularly important given the fact that it was made on the wake of Jack Straw (British Foreign Secretary)s visit to Teheran. Moreover, like the war against Iraq, it displayed quite explicitly the differences of approach that exist between the way in which the Prime Minister sees matters in comparison to the much more status quo oriented diplomatic corps at Whitehall. But, this is not without precedent and we Iranians have previously witnessed a similar example back in 1979, when the then Foreign Secretary, David Owen had clearly been the very last person to abandon the previous regime.
MK: Many consider Mohammad Khatami to be a lame duck president or a busted flush, at a time when the legitimacy and the popularity of the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei is believed to be at an all time low. In these circumstances, there are rumors circulating that former President Hashemi Rafsanjani is trying to carve out a new role for himself as the main power broker in Iran. While remaining in the background, he is said to be trying to convey the message that were the West to deal with him by allowing him a free and unfettered hand in dealing with matters at home, then he would move quickly towards removing any existing barriers including resumption of normal ties with the US. To what extent have you noted any evidence that would validate such an assertion?
ARN: I have seen numerous evidence that would suggest to me that Rafsanjani - whom I should add is another equally despised member of the IRI leadership - is trying to position himself as the countrys next strong man. It is a known fact that a number of key people associated with him have met with US officials in Switzerland and Greece in recent weeks to convey the general picture you have described. It is also unbelievable to hear that he has even tried to engage the Israelis by sending an envoy to meet with their officials in Jerusalem, in the hope that he might persuade the powerful Jewish lobby in Washington not to bloc his various approaches. However, it is equally safe to say that people are a great deal more sober today than they have ever been in the past. In this regard, I am of the view that no one has so far been willing to attach any credence to his proposals. Nevertheless, he is pressing ahead, by saying that only he is capable of adopting a Chinese approach to solving Irans economic problems, thus ending rampant inflation, unemployment and the like. But, I am of the view that policy makers in Washington have moved on a great deal and they are no longer interested in supporting such hated people whose continuing role in office runs counter to a trend that is being demanded by the current milieu in the region. http://www.nourizadeh.com/site/archives/000139.php