Friday, November 07, 2008

Iran and US Election

It is interesting to notice that how closely Presidential campaigns in the States were followed by international audience. In Iran many kept track of primary elections and then the combat between Barak Obama, President Elect, and Senator McCain with enthusiasm. For them it was unbelievable to see an African American with a Kenyan father on the road to the White House.
In the days leading to the election Iranians enjoyed the competition while many officials followed the old line that USA foreign policy is independent from the ruling party. This statement neither subdued hopes nor reduced expectations that an Obama presidency would be better for Iranian people. Many believe that even a change of tone in Washington would cool down the tensions and would facilitate diplomatic approach and negotiations.
Iran-USA relations always have been a tricky process filled by political minefield. Both sides have to be careful of domestic reactions and interest groups while planning to approach each other. The prevailing assumption is that Iranian politicians believe that success in opening political relationship with the States would result in an immense increase in one's prestige and political influence. Thus many political groups would interfere in the process or would interrupt it to deny their rivals the credit not because they oppose the notion itself.
This argument neglects the fact that often radicals of both sides enjoy a best response situation. They provide each other with incentives, motives and reasons to remain radical. It also puts too much weight on the political gains of such a relationship. Many politicians on both sides have gained more opposing the other side than advocating diplomatic relations. Why this time could be different? Would it be different simply because of the “change” agenda?
Although some say “Change” has created expectations, there is little doubt that realpolitik deals with incentives, gains and strategies. From this point of view both countries are in a position to gain from a negotiation. If we assume that new administration will seek a stronger Iraqi government and move toward a reduced presence in Iraq then Iran’s assistance would be of value. Should it be secured it will result in a more stable Iraq and facilitate regaining stability in Iraq. Thus requiring it might create positive gains.
On the other hand if the price of oil continues to decline then Iranian government might appreciate lifting the sanctions and access to international banking system. It also might consider it as a positive gesture to see the regime change is not part of the agenda in Washington.
President-elect’s victory was welcome by many social groups in Iran, including youth, business community, women and students. There are several ways that the new administration can show them good faith: increasing cultural and academic exchanges, allowing Iranian private airlines access to American aircrafts and parts for their purely civilian purposes that would reduce the fatality rate of air travel in Iran, and exploring common business interests; for too long both sides have been focused on oil industry however there are other fields that both sides can collaborate. Doing so would increase the popular demand for relations with the States and politicians can seek diplomatic solutions without appearing to compromise their standards.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

So It is Settled

“Impeachment has been Accepted and from this day Mr. Kordan cannot be functioning as the minister of interior. Majlis has expressed its lack of confidence.” With these sentences Dr. Ali Larijani the speaker of Iranian Parliament made it official that Mr. Kordan had lost his job after 90 days in office. Your correspondent does not want to exaggerate the significance of this event; however it was an important development, one that cannot be ignored.
Our story began when Mr. Kordan, seeking the approval of Majlis told MPs that he hold an honorary degree from Oxford, that prestigious eminent tower of academic traditions. After hearing his credentials and Mr. Ahmadinejad's enthusiastic support MPs went ahead and voted for Mr. Kordan. It did not end there.
Dr. Tavakoli a prominent conservative MP who is the Head of Majlis Research Center and runs Alef ( news website did not find Mr. Kordan’s answers to the questions about his degree satisfactory. He sent an inquiry to Oxford asking if they had granted Mr. Kordan a degree in the past. Oxford denied even hearing of a Mr. Kordan. Dr. Tavakoli’s website uploaded Oxford University’s letter. And school sent out a news release to the effect. The story now was picked up by the foreign press; Guardian, Washington Post and LA Times circulated the related stories.
While society, weblogs and media were filled with stories and jokes about this event, conservative faction and MPs were facing a serious question. Although many bureaucrats and officials claim degrees from schools, both domestic and foreign, neither of them ever did so in an official session of Majlis and none had been contradicted. This was an obvious breach of the values advocated by the conservatives. They had no other choice but to seek Mr. Kordan’s resignation.
Several conservative MPs joined Dr. Ahmad Tavakoli and Dr. Ali Motaharri, another conservative MP from Tehran whose father, Morteza Motaharri was the most prominent ideologue of Islamic revolution. They asked for Mr. Kordan’s resignation, he rebuffed them. They requested the President to fire him, and the President rebuffed them too. So impeachment was the only way.
Days leading to the impeachment witnessed some interesting events. Mr. Kordan accepted that his diploma could be a forgery but said that an individual who had claimed to be Oxford representative in Tehran had offered him the document on school’s behalf. That individual identity remains unknown. An aide to Mr. Kordan and President was caught offering 5 million Thomans to MPs for repairing Masjids (Mosques) in their constituencies. Instead of a receipt he had them sign a withdrawal from impeachment request. After being slapped by a fellow conservative He was banned from entering Majlis building.
The day of impeachment came, while Americans were electing a new president, Iranian MPs were firing the person in charge of holding elections. The outcome was celebrated by conservatives, moderates and reformers alike. The impeachment also pushed the cabinet to the edge of confidence. One more change in the cabinet would force President Ahmadinejad to ask for the vote of confidence for the government from Majlis, according to Iranian constitution; an opportunity that many of his critiques would welcome.
The hero of the hour is certainly Ahmad Tavakoli. Your correspondent has been a critique of Mr. Tavakoli's political views, which are conservative, and I am not a conservative by any stretch of the word, and his economic beliefs including his support of government’s role in the economy, yours truly advocate a free market and participating in the global markets. However it must be pointed out that he preformed his duties as a MP immaculately. He investigated Mr. Kordan’s credentials, provided evidence that contradicted them and acted upon hard evidence to challenge him. He was able to rally a group of MPs to impeach the minister and he gave president every opportunity to avoid a confrontation. Many including your correspondent believe that is the true function of any parliament. That is why democracy is efficient, that is why legislation must be independent of executive and that is why elections must be free.