Editor in Chief: Moh. Reza Huwaida Friday, November 15th, 2019

Changing Political Climate in Iran

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Changing Political Climate in Iran

It has been elections time in Iran. Parliamentary elections were held in early March and a new Majlis is going to be sitting in Tehran very soon. As the atmosphere in Iran was distinctly changed during the days and weeks in the lead-up to the elections, so was the atmosphere in Iran's rocky relations with the West, involving the nuclear talks. This year's Majlis elections were very different than the previous ones.

In 2009 and earlier, the challenge of the "Reformists" to the core of "Principalists" was formidable. This time around, however, the challenge of Reformists has been all but annihilated. The battles were of Principalists against the Principalistsor, to be more precise, of "Real Principalists" against the Principalists. The political playing field has never been made so homogeneous. The reformists are now effectively sidelined and pushed to the margins.

The "Guardian Council"made sure that the process of screening the applicants before they are allowed to file their papers and credentials excluded the "others". So the main contestants of these elections were the Principalists.

This camp itself is made up of various cliques and groupings which have in commona conservative political outlook (in Iranian political standards)and loyalty to the Velayet-eFaqih and the over-arching authority of the Supreme Leader. These elections have been a total victory for the Iranian conservatives. This is despite that fact that among the conservatives themselves, power skirmishes are rife, and "Real Principalists" pit themselves against whom they consider as mere Principalists if not less.

The outcome of the elections, certainly, will make the power structure in Iran more unified, cohesive and consolidated. As the make-up and composition of the Majlis (national parliament) will become much more homogeneous, power will be further consolidated.

This will make it easier for Iran, the U.S. and the Western coalition to sit and talk at the negotiation table. Gone would be the days when the Iran's constant internal power skirmishes undermined the talks and negotiations. As far as the next presidential election is concerned, the groundwork has already been laid and the next president is decided to be a fellow conservative principalist. The purge has been thorough and ruthless.

The United States and Barack Obama will be dealing with a more united Iran and the voices coming out from Iran would be much more unified. On the other hand, a more united stand and unified voice on the part of Iran would also mean reinforced Iranian defiance and its further foot-dragging on compromising on some of the most fundamental aspects of its relations with the West.

Therefore, in all likelihood, the results of these elections, while opening windows of opportunity, will also give rise to heightened chance of Iranian foot-dragging on some of the most fundamental aspects of its relations with the West. At this sensitive juncture and when the Barack Obama administration is trying hard to make diplomacy (combined with punitive measures such as sanctions) succeed with Iran and avoid a military confrontation, the results of Iran's Majlis elections will open up a new window of opportunity.

The main centers of decision making in Iran are well aware of a need for directing the course of negotiations towards de-escalation of tensions. Over the medium to long term, changes in Iran's power structure would be very helpful in enabling Iran deal more effectively with the Western coalition.

American president Barack Obama himself and his administration have shown a substantive willingness to give diplomacy and punitive measures ample chance of success. In an election year when he is bent on securing a re-election, public opinion in the U.S. count a great deal. In Israel too public opinion is against military action in Iran.

However, for the Obama administration, the conservative government of Benjamin Natanyahu in Israel has proved to be a major problem. On one hand, Obama should retain and attract the votes of an important Jewish electorate inside the U.S. who overwhelmingly voted for him in 2008. On the other hand, maintaining Israel onboard with the broad Iran policies of his administration has been a formidable challenge.

The dovish stand of Obama himself and his administration with regards to Iran, however, does not mean that ultimately, good will and diplomacy will prevail. Among other factors, the Iran-U.S. relations will indeed continue to be also a function of broader regional developments in the Middle East.

The events in Syria bear a distinct hallmark of a Western-sponsored insurgency against the government of Damascus.Saudi Arabia and other GCC countries have now joined the fray in arming and financing the Free Syrian Army. As the Russian foreign minister argued, taking out Syria, among other objectives, is in pursuit of getting to Iran. A regime change in Iran is high on the agenda of powerful centers of decision-making in the U.S. and no matter what Obama strives to achieve, over the long-run, the U.S. will be moving in that direction.

The question here is if the relations between Iran and the U.S. and, for that matter, the West, will fall victim to the happenings in the Middle East. Saudi Arabia is a major regional ally for the U.S. The Saudis have been pushing the U.S. to directly enter the waters in Syria and pitch for a regime change.

It has been difficult for the Obama administration to resist these Saudi demands. This is one instance where U.S.'s Iran policies get shaped by its regional compulsions and its commitments to its regional allies. Iran perceives the heightened Western activism in Syria as a brazen aggression on some of its most vital interests in the Middle East.

In fact, as the West's drive to expand its hegemony in the Middle East has gone ahead with considerable success, it has led Iran to prepare itself and raise defenses against what it sees as renewed Western expansionism in the Middle East.

The purge of the political system inside Iran in recent years, which came to a crescendo with the recent Majlis elections,can be understood as a result of Iran's increased threat perceptions. Taking into consideration the broader geo-political and geo-strategic dynamics at the Middle Eastern and Eurasian level, no durable and long-lasting improvement can be expected in Iran-U.S. relations. Event at the event of a major truce between the two sides, Iran would still remain as a stumbling block in the way of Western efforts for conquering the Eurasian heartland in a 21st century that should be "American" at all costs.

The author is the permanent writer of the Daily Outlook Afghanistan. He can be reached at outlook afghanistan@gmail.com

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