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Iran's Presidential Election Shifts Its National Politics

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Iran's Presidential Election Shifts Its National Politics

Middle East

Iran's Presidential Election Shifts Its National Politics

Iran's Presidential Election Shifts Its National Politics

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Morning Edition has focused this week on Iran's nuclear ambitions and what they mean for U.S. policy. Iran's presidential election two and a half months ago threw the country into turmoil. The fallout could change how Iran proceeds with its nuclear program, and how it approaches negotiations with the West. Hamid Dabashi, professor of Iranian Studies and Comparative Literature at Columbia University, talks with Steve Inskeep about the political shifts in Iran.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

All this week, we've been reporting on the United States, Iran and Iran's nuclear program. Iran denies it is seeking a bomb, just peaceful nuclear power. Westerners are dubious, and Americans say they are determined to keep Iran from getting the bomb. This morning, we'll ask how Iran's disputed presidential election might affect the standoff. We reached a man who's following Iran's protests and turmoil: Hamid Dabashi of Columbia University.

It's often assumed about American politics that domestic politics can drive foreign policy. It may push presidents to do things. It may limit what a president can do. Is that true in Iran?

Professor HAMID DABASHI (Iranian Studies and Comparative Literature, Columbia University): Well, it emerged that way. Up until 12th June 2009 of the presidential election, the most recent presidential election, all the assumption was that, in fact, national politics was entirely irrelevant in the geopolitics of the region. They…

INSKEEP: Oh, because you've got a supreme leader. He controls foreign policy, and he doesn't care what you do.

Prof. DABASHI: Not only that, but also because of the mess that President Obama had inherited from President Bush, Iran had very nicely cushioned itself. But then the presidential election of 2009 happened, and they had invited all the foreign correspondents, as you know, because they thought everything will go hunky-dory. But everything didn't go hunky-dory. And as a result, suddenly, national politics emerged into geopolitics of the region.

INSKEEP: Is there a big difference between hardliners or conservatives in Iran and so-called moderates in Iran in how they view the West and how they view relations with the United States?

Prof. DABASHI: I believe so in international politics, at least in terms of the language and the rhetoric that they use. They're extremely bothered by the rhetoric of denying, for example, the holocaust or belligerent languages of Israel. Now, there are certain principles such as the inalienable rights of Iranian (unintelligible) and of their technology, which is not anything radical. President Obama has also indicated that Iranians are entitled to peaceful nuclear technology. So in answer to your question, yes, both domestically and internationally, there is a marked difference between the two camps.

INSKEEP: Although you raise an interesting point when you talk about Iranians feeling they have an inalienable right to new technology.

Prof. DABASHI: Yes.

INSKEEP: We've spoken to any number of analysts of Iran who've pointed out that even that political moderates in Iran feel that they're patriotic. They feel Iran has rights, and Iran has the same right as anybody else to nuclear technology and would not be eager to give that away or trade it away.

Prof. DABASHI: Precisely. And also, remember that in this case, they're considering the nuclear technology homegrown, and as a result, they're entitled to it.

INSKEEP: The question, I suppose, is whether some arrangement or accommodation is going to be reached whereby the West is confident Iran is not pursuing a bomb.

Prof. DABASHI: Precisely. In fact, President Obama will be in an extraordinarily powerful position, given the weak position of Ahmadinejad.

INSKEEP: Let me ask about another complexity, though. If anything, the aftermath of this election has proved that even though the conservatives in Iran are deeply divided among themselves.

Prof. DABASHI: Oh, absolutely, absolutely. The body politic of the Islamic Republic has never been so deeply and pervasively fractured. The fractured politics that is emerging between Ahmadinejad and Khamenei on one side and reformist figures on the other side is the most serious political and moral crisis that the Islamic Republic has faced in its 30 years history.

INSKEEP: Is there a danger that because of those divisions, there's not really going to be anybody the Obama administration can deal with - nobody is in a strong enough position to deliver a deal from Iran, in effect?

Prof. DABASHI: There is somebody, but not with power as they used to have. Ahmadinejad is that person, but he certainly doesn't have the clout, the authority, the legitimacy, that he claimed to have before 12th June.

INSKEEP: Hamid Dabashi is professor of Iranian Studies and Comparative Literature at Columbia University. Thanks very much for speaking with us.

Prof. DABASHI: Thanks, Steve. Thanks for having me.

(Soundbite of music)

INSKEEP: It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News.

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