Developments concerning Iran in the past day are a maelstrom of intrigue combined with some genuinely positive signals.
Ayatollah Khamenei gave a fire-breathing Friday sermon denouncing Iran’s political reformists and practically promising them temporal and heavenly damnation. Clearly, he was setting the stage for a further ratcheting up of pressure on the liberal camp, which would take the confrontation between the latter and the regime loyalists into ever more dangerous territory.
Ayatollah Rafsanjani reported that an arrest warrant has been issued for Mehdi Karroubi, the second most popular reformist presidential candidate. Khamenei’s denunciation was meant as a last chance for the opposition to back down or face the clanging doors of jail cells and whatever hell awaits them there. Karroubi, for his part, had already answered the Ayatollah in a statement made a few days ago saying he was even more convinced than when he started his campaign of the rightness of the cause.
The hardliners are doling out the pressure gradually. The next stage would involve arresting Moussavi, the leading presidential reformist candidate, then Khatami, the former president, and finally Rafsanjani. One wonders whether they’re prepared to follow the logic of their actions all the way to the end, and whether Iranian will countenance such overt crushing of what little democracy there is left in the country.
So we are in for some fantastically tense times and a possible renewal of the violence which followed the June presidential election. The question will be whether the hardliners under Khamenei have the support lined up to finish off the opposition; or whether this support will crack and pragmatists will shift their support to the Moussavists.
It is hard to believe the same country also proposed that the U.S. join in a renewal of multi-party talks over issues dividing Iran from the rest of the world including nuclear weapons research. Pres. Obama today agreed to join such talks and to appoint a high level State Department representative to lead our delegation. It would be the first time in years that the U.S. and Iran met in unconditional talks and would fulfill a campaign promise Obama made which was widely ridiculed by the Republicans and neo-cons.
No doubt, the U.S. pursuit of these talks will be hectored by today’s Republicans as well. But one thing they should keep in mind (but undoubtedly won’t) is that there is much riding on these talks. This is not just grist for political posturing. We’re talking about looming military confrontation between Israel and Iran in which many lives may be lost. It is incumbent on all Americans of good will to give these talks a real chance. There will always be time if they don’t work to pursue harsher measures. But we are only given a few chances to get out of this mess without savagery and bloodshed. Playing politics at this juncture is cheap and tawdry and so Republican.