Bush administration helped the Iranian hardliner get elected
Ali Hashemi Rafsanjani, the only major Iranian figure who advocated reaching out to America, made indirect overtures to the Bush administration in the period leading up to the June 2005 Iranian election but was rebuffed, according to American businessman Barry O’Connell, who frequently travels to Iran.
State Department personnel referred pejoratively to Rafsanjani, the political figure best known outside Iran and most favored by the international business community, as “that old fox” and “that old wheeler dealer,” O’Connell said. Feelers preceding the election last June were conveyed through members of the Iranian legislative assembly via business contacts, reaching the Southeast Asia section of the State Department. According to State Department personnel, O’Connell said, messages that Rafsanjani was interested in talking with the U.S. were relayed “upstairs” to the seventh floor offices of the Secretary of State.
The feelers were ignored. Asked whether the Bush administration opposed Rafsanjani influenced the Iranian election, O’Connell answers, “Very much so.”
In the weeks leading up to the Iranian election, media sympathetic to the administration aired anti-Iran commentary including that of Bill O’Reilly, who has repeatedly attacked Iran on his Fox television program.
Other impediments to cooperation with moderate, secular or business sector Iranians were imposed in the weeks leading up to the election, including restraints to travel in and out of Iranian air space by companies including federal contractors. These signs were taken by many Iranians around the time of the election to signify that Iran was going to be attacked by America.
The administration rebuffs decreased the ability of Rafsanjani to draw support. “He was almost the only one reaching out to America, and they treated him this way?” O’Connell comments. “They said it to me personally, so they must have said it to others. This administration would not deal with him at all.”
One export of Iran, aside from oil, is Oriental rugs. O’Connell, an authority on Iranian rugs, has a vested interest in keeping the trade linking Europe, the U.S. and Asia alive. Despite sanctions and lists, commerce between the West and Iran still flourishes. Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi said on January 15 that Iranian trade with Europe overall stood at the same level as a year previously, although trade with individual nations has moved up or down.
That makes it more significant that the administration, with strong business connections, declined to show interest in approaching Rafsanjani. Indications that the administration is ginning up some version of assault on Iran have appeared since spring 2005, including sympathetic media representations. Since there are not enough U.S. ground troops for an infantry assault, any attack would have to involve heavy bombings.
In response to questions about other Iranian candidates, O’Connell says that the administration did not seem concerned about Ahmadinejad at all. There was no apparent concern, at the policy making level, that a hardliner or radical fundamentalist might be elected in Iran as a consequence of administration policy. The possibility, treated as inevitability in rightwing publications and think tanks associated with White House Middle East strategizing, seems not to have been regarded as an outcome to be avoided.
Since the election, Rafsanjani has increased in his powers, according to O’Connell. “He is not out of power at all.” New President Ahmadinejad gets the spotlight but does not have equivalent power.
The bulk of power is held by the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Hoseini-Khamenei, in office since 1989, and by the head of the expediency committee. Thus power is largely shared among the Supreme Leader, the committee head, Rafsanjani and the new head who has received all the global attention.
These internal divisions in Iran are not reflected in official administration speech about Iran. The White House, Secretary of State Rice, and neoconservatives in media have focused publicly on President Ahmadinejad, whose lurid and inflammatory rhetoric makes the project easy. The National Review, founded by William A. Rusher, who also founded the Concerned Alumni of Princeton and is chairman of the media corporation that launched the most recent attack on Rep. John Murtha, is running articles about Iran that parallel past articles leading up to the Iraq war.
O’Connell points out that, while neoconservatives advocate several months of concentrated bombing Iran, to bomb purported Iranian nuclear sites, those sites are in residential neighborhoods.
Supposing the administration were to bomb millions of Iranians, for two or three months, as neoconservatives propose. “If we start another war,” in Iran this time, “how do we get out of it?”
Right now, the U.S. maintains a tenuous hold in Iraq because of the majority Shia population which, led largely by Ayatollah Sistani, has chosen to participate in politics in Iraq. But Shia in Iraq would react against the bombing of millions in Iran, where Shia are 89 percent of the population.
Shia Islam has two main schools of thought. The more theocratic school of thought predominates in Iran, and the school that more supports separation of church and state predominates in Iraq. Administration policy seems to aim at driving the two populations together in opposition to the U.S. This would approach the goal of war with all Islam, global war between the West and Muslims, advocated by some neoconservatives and also by Osama bin Laden.
Iran has no embassy in the U.S. But it does have an Iran Interest Section in the embassy of Pakistan. Protests have erupted across Pakistan at the deaths of Pakistani civilians in recent U.S. military strikes.
Following a speech on January 14 by President Ahmadinejad defending Iran’s nuclear research, Iranian officials complain that CNN translated a phrase “nuclear weapons” that should have been translated “nuclear technology.”
Meanwhile, a Russian government official said on January 15 that Russia is continuing its military and technological cooperation with Iran.
[This article, deleted by the system among hundreds of articles and blog posts in summer 2011, is re-posted using archives and Word files.]