The positive tone of talks in Geneva last week between world powers and Iran over its long-
disputed nuclear program has raised hopes for a diplomatic solution, but hard-liners here are threatening to derail those efforts, reflecting political divisions that existed before Rouhani’s surprise election victory in June.
“It is improper to have any expectation from the U.S., because the U.S. is the Islamic world’s number one enemy,” Ayatollah Ahmad Alamolhoda said at last week’s Friday prayer session in Mashhad, one of Iran’s largest cities and home to its holiest site.
Although the debate can be distilled into the question of whether Iran should mend relations with the United States, the range of answers demonstrates the complexity of the issue.
“Nobody has any illusions about the aims of Western states. Conservatives here emphasize hard talk and firm resistance in confronting these aims, while reformists favor engagement,” said Mohammad Shabani, a political analyst based in Tehran.
Rouhani, the only relative moderate in the presidential race, won outright in a field of six candidates. The next-highest vote-
getter was Tehran’s mayor, Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf, who received 16 percent.
Many observers viewed the election as a rejection of the conservative policies that had ruled Iranian politics since Mahmoud Ahmadinejad became president in 2005. But conservatives still dominate Iran’s powerful judiciary and its parliament, which will not see elections until 2016.
In the ongoing debate, some political elites say that rising above domestic political squabbles as Iran wrestles with the economic consequences of sanctions imposed because of its nuclear program would best serve national interests. But such voices are few.
“National interests differ from factional or personal interests, and it is our duty to protect them. Our national interests are the same as the interests of Islam and our system,” Mohsen Rezaei, a perennial conservative presidential candidate and former Revolutionary Guard Corps commander, said in an interview with the semiofficial Fars News Agency on Saturday.
Rouhani’s advisers, however, are taking no definitive stance on relations with the United States.
“There are those in this country who consider any negotiation as disloyalty, and there are some who believe that only direct relations with the U.S. will serve the country. The government has no connection to either group,” Hesamoddin Ashna, Rouhani’s cultural adviser, said Thursday on a popular political talk show.
But clerics, lawmakers, journalists and academics are more blunt, exposing a divide that may prove difficult to bridge.