DATE=3/4/2000 TYPE=ON THE LINE TITLE=ON THE LINE: THE IRANIAN ELECTIONS NUMBER=1-00827 EDITOR=OFFICE OF POLICY - 619-0037 CONTENT= THEME: UP, HOLD UNDER AND FADE Anncr: On the Line - a discussion of United States policy and contemporary issues. This week, "The Iranian Elections." Here is your host, Robert Reilly. Host: Hello and welcome to On the Line. In recent voting, Islamic reformists gained control of Iran's parliament for the first time since the 1979 revolution brought an Islamic fundamentalist regime to power. The reformists won one hundred seventy seats out of a total of two hundred ninety. Some observers say that President Mohammad Khatami is now in a position to move forward with reforms. But others warn that the key institutions in Iran are still controlled by Iran's rigidly fundamentalist supreme leader, Ayatollah Khamenei. Meanwhile, a senior U.S. military commander, General Anthony Zinni, told the U.S. Congress that Iran remains the greatest long-term threat to the U.S. in the Middle East. General Zinni cited Iran's support for terrorism and its programs to develop weapons of mass destruction and the missiles to deliver them. Joining me today to discuss the Iranian elections are three experts. Roscoe Suddarth is president of the Middle East Institute and a former U.S. ambassador to Jordan. Azar Nafisi is a visiting professor at the Johns Hopkins School for Advanced International Studies. And Suzanne Maloney is a research associate at the Brookings Institute. Mr. Suddarth, this parliamentary election follows upon municipal elections last year, in which the reform group did stunningly well, which followed the 1997 upset election of President Khatami. Does all of this translate into an irreversible force of reform in Iran? Suddarth: It sure looks like a trend to me, Bob. People have put great store by the fact that there is a generational change. You have a greater and greater proportion of the population that is very young. And with the voting age now at sixteen, it was fifteen before, you have youth who are voting. You have the women who have voted very decisively on liberal issues. From the U.S. point of view, I think it is a very encouraging trend. Host: Why from the U.S. point of view? What does this promise to change? Suddarth: Because it is an open society that they are moving toward. It is a society under Mr. Khatami that is calling for a dialogue and for people-to-people ties, at least with the United States. And I hope that, over time, the two regimes will be able to signal one another sufficiently that we will be able to compose some of these differences. Iran is too important a country to be left in isolation. Host: Azar Nafisi, do you agree with that? Nafisi: Yes, I do. I just wanted to add to what Ambassador Suddarth was saying about this generational change, apart from the very important role the youth as a whole have played in these elections and overall in the change toward more pluralism. We also have the young revolutionaries within the Islamic regime, who, at the time of the revolution, were eighteen or twenty. Most of the pro-democracy journalists, like Mr. [Akbar] Ganji, they were about eighteen or twenty at the time of the revolution. And over the years, two things happened. They became more demoralized with the ideological system of the Islamic regime, and they became more and more open towards democratic views. And I think that this sort of movement, from both within the religious hierarchy and from without, it is going to be very positive. Host: Suzanne Maloney, can you have a theocratic democracy? Maloney: That is a very interesting question. But I think what we are seeing in Iran is that the democracy is moving much faster than the theocracy is. The theocracy has not made a lot of progress since 1979 in terms of establishing itself. Yet each year, we are seeing more and more insistence on political participation of Iranians, particularly of young Iranians, and more and more insistence on transparency and accountability from the government. If that is not democracy, I am not entirely sure what is. Iran is the most pluralistic country in the region by far. And that is a trend that has been going on for at least a decade, and probably longer. Host: Yet still, the institutions of the Iranian regime are intact, with Ayatollah Khamenei controlling the military, the media, and the judiciary. And the Council of Guardians are a brake, are they not, on anything this parliament may do? How far can reform go before the clerical regime says, you have overstepped yourselves? Suddarth: Well, I guess that is the big question now with a large majority in the Majlis [parliament]. And if they start voting positive legislation, it can be vetoed by the Council of Guardians. But as an Iranian said to me, they can only dare veto so many things; otherwise people will be in the streets. And from the other viewpoint, they will not be putting in bad legislation, such as the press law. So everyone has a lot of hope. On the other hand, there is always the possibility that somebody in the Revolutionary Guard feels things have gone too far and moves in. Yet most people say that what brought the Shah down was the spilling of blood. So I think the clerical regime has been very careful not to use too much force. And I think it is under more pressure not to do that now. So I am hopeful that there will not be a large counter- revolution, but who's to say? Host: What is the potential for that, Azar Nafisi? Nafisi: Also, I think that, right now, what is happening in Iran is not so much polarization in terms of the hard-liners and the reformists. There is more division, clarification and exclusion. I mean, who is the hard-liner, who was the real opponent of the "reformist line" in this revolution? Was it Ayatollah Khamenei or was it the former president whom we did call reformist, [Ali Akbar Hashemi] Rafsanjani? Host: What is the answer to that? Nafisi: The answer to that question, as far as we can see, is that Rafsanjani was really the main - I hate to use these polarized words in themselves - enemy. But he was the main antagonist in this show. And people pointedly went to the polls not just to vote for the pro-democratic forces, which they did, but also to vote against Rafsanjani. It was the same type of protest vote that they did during Mr. Khatami's election. They were saying "no" to a system. And there is another point. I think that, not just for the hard-liners, but for many people in the clerical hierarchy, reform is equal to revolution. What is the reform? We don't want a theocracy. Basically, that is what they are saying. And that is why they are coming so violently. But it is not just wishful thinking to say that it is irreversible. Host: You think it is? Nafisi: I don't think that we can go back anymore. Host: Tell me, Suzanne Maloney, President Khatami, some people suggest, has had the longest political honeymoon of any political leader. He has been in there since 1997 as a reformer, as a proponent of rule of law and, as Mr. Suddarth mentioned, a dialogue of civilizations, and so forth. However, he could always turn to the fact that he is opposed by this parliament. Now he is going to have seventy-percent support in the parliament, or more. What is the next thing we expect to see this parliament do? What is the reform agenda? Maloney: Khatami has a little bit of breathing space now, but he also has a lot of pressure because he will be facing a campaign for reelection in about another year that will begin to heat up. So there is a lot of pressure on him to actually come through at this point. Host: What does "coming through" mean? Maloney: Looking closely at his record, you see he is a very smart guy. Khatami is very savvy about picking the battles. He is also very good at appealing to the average Iranian on the street. He has this kind of charisma that sends girls at universities fainting and sobbing. It is unclear exactly what the real agenda of this reformist parliament will be. There are those who will argue that economic reform is going to be on top of the list. There are those who argue that they will be looking to sort of feel-good measures, political and social and cultural reforms, things like repealing the ban on satellite dishes. I tend to think that they are going to have to focus very clearly and immediately on economic reform, but that actually is the harder of the agendas that they will have. Host: In fact, Roscoe Suddarth, some people say that the really difficult times are about to begin because the so-called reformists really are not bound together by anything other than their antipathy to the clerical regime. And there is not a common program for reform even in the economic area. Some of them are for privatization of state enterprises. Some of them oppose it. Suddarth: Well, that is true. I think most people agree that the primary movement will be toward political reform and opening up the society, perhaps political parties being allowed. The Iranians seem to be interested in that for the moment more than they are in the economy. I think they realize that the entrenched interests of the clerics, particularly in the foundations, the bonyads which control eighty percent of the gross national product of the country -- they are enormous - will be very hard to take apart. They are not even put in as part of the budget. They are not transparent at all. So if he can start moving in the direction of political reforms, transparency and things like that, I think that the Iranians will be patient with him. Host: Do you agree? Maloney: They have begun to do that with some changes that were made even before these elections. Last summer, you saw a new head installed at the judiciary. So there you do not have direct control by Khatami, but you have someone who has come into that position willing to make reforms, willing to work with the president. The same is true at the largest of these foundations. The Bonyad-e Mostazafan [Foundation for the Oppressed] also received a new head last July, someone who has pledged to work very closely and has been criticized already by the previous head for working so closely with the government and being so cooperative. So you are already starting to see this movement in favor of greater control by the central government. And if he is able to further that sort of thing over the next six months, it will be a major accomplishment. Suddarth: But you know you are right, I think, that the people backing Khatami - that you have a lot of statists, people from the [former Iranian president] Bani Sadr [and former Iranian prime minister Mir Hussein] Musavi tradition who believe that the primary thing is equity, that you should take care of the poor, that you should have the state controlling things. They are not at all interested in private enterprise, foreign investment, all the sort of things that, I think, are necessary for Iran to become prosperous. Host: And to solve a twenty-percent unemployment problem, right? Nafisi: Yes, that is one of the main problems, and that is why I was saying, when we talk about reformists, they are not a homogenous group. Both in terms of politics as well as the economy and culture, they do have a lot of things to solve and to sort out. So I think you will see divisions within all camps. Especially on the question of the economy, there are many divergent views. As Ambassador Suddarth said about Mir Hussein Musavi's government, and also people like [former Iranian editor of Salaam newspaper, Mohammad Musavi] Khoeiniha, all these people who are to the right of the current popular reformists would all be very afraid of an open society, an open economy. But I also wanted to say about President Khatami that I always thought that President Khatami's position was paradoxical. On the one hand, he would like to keep the status quo and he belongs to the prestigious revolutionary tradition. He has been there from the start. On the other hand, he has an agenda and he has come with a platform that is very democratic in many ways. So he has been vacillating at times between these two, and it is a very precarious line to tread. And you saw that in the student demonstrations. I think that, with the student demonstrations, President Khatami had to take sides, or had at least to make public statements which did alienate many groups within the students. There are still unsolved problems, the murders and the students, because now we have the police on trial, but not their vigilantes who were the real cause of the trouble. All the student groups condemned this. So we have all these problems to face. In order for Iran to move forward, you need experts and you need to create a trust for the Iranians to go back, for the West to open up. And I think that those who are in favor of a state economy do not have much place to go. Host: How might the results of this election translate into changes in foreign policy, Suzanne Maloney? Maloney: I think this parliament is not going to have a great deal of control over the three main issues that concern U.S. foreign policy in particular, and that is terrorism, support of groups that are rejectionist against the Arab- Israeli peace process, and development of programs for weapons of mass destruction. The parliament does not have specific responsibilities over those three areas. And so I don't think we are going to see any immediate changes. But what we are seeing is this culture of transparency and accountability and the culture of criticizing and discussing everything that is slowly going to move into those three areas. There are problems at home that are probably going to occupy most of the Majlis's time, at least in its early sessions. But I would also suspect that a parliament that is struggling with some of the big issues of how do you enact economic reform when you have major philosophical differences about it, might look toward some easy gains that might be made by reaching out on foreign policy. And they have seen how successful that has been over the past year or so. Host: What did you think, Roscoe Suddarth, about the reaction of the United States government to the results of this election? Suddarth: Well, I think they have been quite positive. We are, however, at the end of an administration. [President Bill] Clinton sees a strategic opening in Iran, but I happen to be somewhat pessimistic. I could see the administration, for instance, doing a few small gestures like allowing oil swaps or even perhaps the importation of rugs from Iran, which would be enormously positive. But as we move toward the elction, [Vice President Al] Gore, I think, is committed to not only a pro-Israeli stand, but for similar reasons the East-West pipeline, which denies Iran transit of oil and gas coming to Turkey and the West. And what generally happens is that the vice president, since this is a minor foreign policy issue for America, even though people in the Middle East think it is major -- there is China, there is Russia, there is the World Trade Organization, there are a whole bunch of things. I think he would prevail on Clinton to go slow on Iran. Clinton has the whole peace process that he has got to worry about. So I would see limited gestures from the United States during this period. Host: There already have been a few limited gestures from president Clinton on spare airline parts and lifting sanctions against foreign companies doing business in the oil industry in Iran. Maloney: The major change in the sanctions law was one which assisted U.S. agriculture, because it allowed our agricultural companies and medical companies to export things to Iran. What the Iranians are looking for is something that helps their economy. And I agree with Ambassador Suddarth. I do not think we will see major gestures in the short term. There will be this window of opportunity come November, when you might see the administration more free to act, and obviously they are interested in what is happening in Iran as part of a larger process of dealing with the Middle East. Host: On the other hand, we saw president Khatami in Damascus last summer meeting with the heads of Hezbollah and Islamic Jihad, expressing his support. So how likely is it, even with him, that there would be a breakthrough on any of these issues that are so important to the United States -- on terrorism, the Israeli-Arab peace process, and weapons of mass destruction? Nafisi: That is one of the problems that Iran faces. It is a domestic problem that they have to solve first because they also have to be able, first of all, whatever they say in private, they have to able to back it up with some public action. And what happens is that many Iranian politicians might want very good relations with the U.S., but publicly their hands are tied. Host: One Iranian candidate even said, why don't we have a national referendum on reestablishing relations with the U.S.? Nafisi: You see, for example, Mr. [Kamal] Kharrazi [Iranian foreign minister]. On one hand, he takes steps toward more dialogue. On the other hand, I think it was in an interview in Newsweek where he says that we don't recognize Israel's existence. Israel does not exist. Or on Salman Rushdie, he now says we never took back what we said about Salman Rushdie. The point is that they have to be able to move domestically to a point where the foreign minister can give assurances and be able to back it up. Host: I'm afraid that's all the time we have this week. I would like to thank our guests -- Roscoe Suddarth from the Middle East Institute; Azar Nafisi from the Johns Hopkins School for Advanced International Studies; and Suzanne Maloney from the Brookings Institute-- for joining me to discuss the Iranian elections. This is Robert Reilly for On the Line. Anncr: You've been listening to "On the Line" - a discussion of United States policies and contemporary issues. This is --------. 03-Mar-2000 11:14 AM EDT (03-Mar-2000 1614 UTC) NNNN Source: Voice of America .