Title:  ANALYZING THE NEW LEADERSHIP ELECTED IN IRAN (CSIS experts stress patience with new Iranian government)

Author:  Joanne L. Nix USIA Staff Writer
Date:  19970528


Washington -- The election of Seyyed Mohammad Khatemi as the next president of the Islamic Republic of Iran caught the world off guard. Khatemi, a former culture minister linked with earlier moderation efforts during the 1980s, won handily, due in part to support from the 50 percent of Iran's population born after the 1979 revolution. Although the size of his victory perhaps shows a shift toward "moderation," it is too early to tell where the new president will take Iran.

These were views expressed by two experts on Iran and the Gulf area who analyzed the recent Iranian election at a May 28 Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) forum in Washington.

The speakers, Shaul Bakhash, the Iranian-born Robinson Professor at George Mason University, and Anthony Cordesman, co-director of Middle East Studies at CSIS, both urged "patience" in assessing the outcome of Iran's seventh presidential election.

Recognizing that Ayatollah Khamenei, the spiritual successor to the late Ayatollah Khomeini, has the final say in the political affairs of Iran, questions arise as to whether the election of a new government might lead to an easing of restrictions on issues such as intellectual debate and female dress or whether Khatemi will suffer the fate of revolutionary Iran's first elected president, Abolhassan Bani-Sadr, who was dismissed after 17 months for challenging the religious establishment.

Pointing out that Khatemi will not be taking power until August, Anthony Cordesman predicted that "the (effect of the new) regime won't be clear until at least December or January." Despite the participation of more than 29 million people in the polls on Friday and the election of a president with more than 20 million votes, an unprecedented development for any election during Islamic Republic rule, "this is not a situation for sudden or dramatic change so there would be little point in (the U.S.) trying to force issues."

But Cordesman suggested that the United States should be willing to enter into dialogue with the new government of Iran "not necessarily to change behavior but simply to be talking to a hostile regime in order to understand it better. The key is prioritization, not trying to change every aspect of Iran's behavior at once," he said.

As to the matter of sanctions, in Cordesman's view, "demonizing Iran has outlived its time." He suggested that instead of giving up sanctions totally, the United States could exercise its option of suspending or waiving some sanctions while retaining others for leverage.

He also predicted that since stability in the Gulf has become indispensable to Iran's neighbors, it is important to elicit the help of our allies in the region, notably Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt, in an attempt to find common ground and to deal more normally with Iran.

In his remarks, Shaul Bakhash termed the election "a mandate for change." But he emphasized that in his view, the results did not mean a change in Iran's foreign policy. "I nevertheless think it provides a small window of opportunity," he said, and noted that in his first news conference, Rafsanjani denied suggestions that the vote represented a "protest" against Iran's 18-year-old Islamic revolution.

According to Bakhash, "what Iran wants first is a signal from the United States but they haven't made clear what they want." The election provided a window of opportunity for dialogue if there is a gesture on the United States' part. Although the idea of an American gesture is vague (it is) "worth exploring," he suggested.

As for the sensitive area of foreign policy, where Iran's sponsorship of terrorism and subversion, and its drive to acquire nuclear weapons and advanced missiles, have alarmed Washington and much of the Middle East, Bakhash warned against overreaction. Although he admitted that Iran's support of terrorism abroad and its pursuit of nuclear weapons threaten the stability of the region and must be addressed, he said that the country was not a major threat to the Arab-Israeli peace process. NNNN

Document Type:  ARTICLE
Keywords:  iran; us policy; csis; 1a #jln vlf kf
Thematic Codes:  1a
Languages:  ENGLISH
Originating Team:  97052801.GNE