If you're looking for clues to whether Iran wants to deal with the United States over issues like its nuclear program, you could start by attending Friday prayers here in Tehran.

Unidentified Man: (Singing in foreign language)

INSKEEP: That's the call to prayer at Tehran University. The muezzin, as he's called, asks the believers to send their regards to the prophet Muhammad and his family. The believers respond:

Unidentified Group: (Chanting in foreign language)

INSKEEP: Thousands gather in rows beneath a metal roof, and it's hard to overstate the power of seeing every man in unison put his forehead to the ground.

You may wonder what these prayers have to do with Iran's nuclear program. In Iran, Friday prayers often start with a spiritual lesson and end with current events, which was true last Friday, when the sermon was delivered by Iran's former president.

Unidentified Group: (Chanting in foreign language)

INSKEEP: Hashemi Rafsanjani had a bearing that commanded attention, although he had to wait for his supporters to stop chanting.

Unidentified Group: (Chanting in foreign language)

INSKEEP: He was dressed in modest grays and browns, but with a hint of elegance. He began with a religious lesson. Later, he spoke of Iran's nuclear program and directly addressed the United States.

Mr. HASHEMI RAFSANJANI (Former President, Iran): (Through translator) You are claiming that if Iran wants to end its isolation, Iran has to suspend its nuclear activities or remain in isolation. If you are talking about changes, we expect that you will first change your policies towards us. We want you to take the first step and make a fair, rational, logical proposal for resolving the nuclear issue with Iran.

INSKEEP: Do that, Rafsanjani said, and then we can help you resolve the instability in this region. The former president's remarks set off speculation here in Tehran. He remains a high official with access to Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. A Tehran journalist, Said Laylaz, saw much meaning in that call for the U.S. to make a fair proposal.

Mr. SAID LAYLAZ (Journalist): And then, for example, somebody like Mr. Hashemi Rafsanjani says something about the possibility of United States negotiation, he's a representative of Mr. Khamenei.

INSKEEP: If those words come, does that mean that Khamenei is essentially saying to the world, I'm ready to talk? I'm ready to deal? I will make a deal when I am serious about it?

Mr. LAYLAZ: For sure he is ready to talk.

INSKEEP: Not every listener was so optimistic. One diplomat noted Rafsanjani's demand that the U.S. change its policies. That sounds more hard-line. Other analysts ask if Rafsanjani really speaks for the supreme leader at all.

Unidentified Group: (Chanting in foreign language)

INSKEEP: Such mysteries may lead you even deeper into the Friday prayers. In a book about Iran, the writer Afshin Molavi reports that the religious part of the sermon often reinforces the political message.

Mr. RAFSANJANI: (Foreign language spoken)

INSKEEP: In his sermon, former President Rafsanjani spoke of the Islamic rule that Muslims must pray while facing toward Mecca. He observed that if Muslims miss the target a little bit - aiming a little to the right, to the left - it's okay. The prayers will still be accepted.

You're left wondering if this famously pragmatic cleric is making a subtle suggestion, a suggestion that it might be okay for Iran to be flexible in talks with the United States. Or maybe it was just Rafsanjani's musings on the nature of Islam. The former president never made it clear.

Unidentified Man: (Singing in foreign language)

INSKEEP: He stepped down from the pulpit and took his place before the other worshipers, turning his face toward Mecca to pray.

Unidentified Man: (Singing in foreign language)

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