What are the reformists’ plans to solve 10 years of dissent on the nuclear issue? How do they perceive negotiations with the US? Could would-be candidates concur with senior officials in the Islamic Republic and the Supreme Leader? Is Iran’s approach to the US likely to change?
These questions are very important because of what the US is doing in the region and the difficult economic situation in Iran. US interests in Iran have a knock on effect on countries like Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Lebanon and Bahrain. So these countries’ futures are also at stake.
If and when the US acknowledges Iran’s right to enrich uranium, the UK, France and Germany would follow. China and Russia are already much softer with Iran. So the US’ green light would end political, economic, medicine and media sanctions against Iran.
A series of sanctions from the US and its European allies have generated cynicism among the Iranian people towards the West. They cherish their independence and reputation and to them it’s even more important than their wages.
The Reformist candidates claim they have a breakthrough plan to come to an accord on the nuclear issue.
Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani
After Khatami’s refusal to become a candidate, the chance of Hashemi’s candidacy is increasing. He was both Iran’s president and the speaker of the Parliament. However, those close to him ruled out his candidacy, but his daughter confirmed he will become a candidate.
Reformists believe unlike other candidates, Hashemi with his high reputation can make major changes in the Islamic Republic and revive the Reformists’ position.
Hashemi is one of the harshest critics of the current administration’s foreign policy. He recently said: “[the Current administration] did badly in foreign policy,” referring to president Ahmadinejad’s rhetoric Hashemi added: “Some encourage confrontation and then claim that the sanctions are just ink on paper.”
He believes that repealing sanctions against Iran is a difficult task and Iran should pay a lot in return.
“We’re not at a war with Israel, but we will help if Arabs invade the country.” he said.
On Iran’s nuclear issue Hashemi said: “the Supreme Leader’s Fatwa on banning nuclear weapons is more important than any political commitment and I believe if the West stops their illogical pressures, we wouldn’t have any problems using nuclear energy for medical, agricultural and electricity producing purposes.”
One of the most controversial comments of Hashemi was printed in a political journal earlier this year in which he said: “the US is the ultimate power. In our perception, what’s the difference between US and China, Russia and Europe? If we negotiate with them, why not negotiate with the US?”
Eshagh Jahangiri was the industry minister during Mohammad Khatami’s administration and a member of the “Laborers and Construction” party.
Jahangiri’s words are derived from Khatami’s statements and Hashemi’s to a certain degree. In an interview with a newspaper about the future of Reformists in the current elections he said: “I think the world will have a different view towards Reformists and a great deal of our problems in foreign policy will get solved no matter which Reformist candidate wins.”
Jahangiri in criticizing the Ahmadinejad administration said: “sanctions won’t get lifted easily. But [if we win the election] the world knows they are dealing with a wise team who believes in winning for both sides and interaction through diplomacy. In such circumstances, the world can’t bully us anymore, and they should talk in a sensible way.”
Hassan Rowhani is the head of the center for strategic studies for the country and an old companion of Hashemi.
Apparently, there are no differences between Hashemi and Rowhani in terms of foreign policy.
“We have to restrain the hostility between Iran and the US. Iran is not meant to remain enemies with the US forever. We have to change this relationship in the right time, while preserving our national interests,” said Hasan Rowhani, now 64, who has been the secretary of the National Supreme Security Council and also in charge of Iran’s nuclear issue.
Pricipalists criticize Rowhani for halting nuclear enrichment in 2002.
When declaring his candidacy, he said: “If I get elected, I will change the path we’ve taken. We can use a better strategy in which we preserve our inalienable right, while getting along with the rest of the world. It’s clear that nuclear energy is our inalienable right, but other things are too. Like not being under sanctions and not having pressure on ordinary people. We want to achieve all these rights, not just one.”
Mohammad-Reza Aref, 52, Vice President of Khatami’s second administration, a University professor and a politician is another Reformist candidate. He is close to Khatami but some believe he’s more of a soft touch than Khatami.
“We are obliged to defend our national rights in the world’s communities. We should interact with the world. But in our talks we should respect the right of other countries. We shouldn’t consider ourselves as the leader of the world and give suggestions to the world while we have a lot of problems in our own country. We are responsible for our country. We shouldn’t be weak in negotiations, so they won’t impose their will on us.”
Mostafa Kavakebian’s comments about the nuclear issue and negotiations with the US are probably the most interesting.
“I proposed a scheme to the Parliament with which we could normalise our relations with the US within 6 months and I’m sticking to my guns. Of course we should take note of our red lines,” said Kavakebian who has less chance of victory between the reformist candidates.
As we see, if Reformists were to win, Iran’s policy towards the nuclear issue and the way of dealing with US will likely change.
However it is possible that the Supreme Leader will use his authority to prevent the next president of changing the overall strategy of the Islamic Republic, yet a change in tactics dealing with the west on the nuclear issue is the least we can anticipate.