Obama hits right note on Iran stance


POSTED: Saturday, June 27, 2009

President Barack Obama promised during last year's campaign that he would seek dialogue with Iran, but that was a different Iran than the country that will remain shaken by unrest following the violent crackdown on peaceful demonstrators. The legitimacy of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's presidency and the stature of Iran's Islamic theocracy are fragile and likely to remain so in the foreseeable future.

Obama avoided sharp criticism of Iran's rigged election of Ahmadinejad to a second term in office, careful not to jeopardize future talks. The brutal assault by Iranian police on demonstrators in the days after the election has caused Obama to use stronger words as the potential for a dialogue with Tehran anytime soon dwindled.

“;There is no doubt that any direct dialogue or diplomacy with Iran is going to be affected by the events of the last several weeks,”; Obama acknowledged yesterday.

Ahmadinejad and Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran's supreme leader, publicly cling to the fiction that the election's outcome was, in Khamenei's words, a “;divine assessment.”; But they must deal with the reality of an angry, democracy-hungry population and, for the first time in the post-shah 30-year history, divisions within the religious hierarchy.

Farideh Farhi, an Iranian scholar who lectures at the University of Hawaii's political science department, doubts that the Ahmadinejad government will collapse in the near future. “;Because what you have are two coalitions engaged in very serious discussion behind closed doors over the direction of the country,”; Farhi told the Star-Bulletin's Christine Donnelly. “;And they are both very robust.”;

Meanwhile, the international community is exerting pressure on Iran. Foreign ministers from the Group of Eight, including the United States, issued a joint statement saying they “;deplored post-electoral violence which led to the loss of lives of Iranian civilians”; and urging Iran to respect human rights. It added that the door must remain open to dialogue with Tehran on its nuclear program.

While Obama deferred to European leaders to use the harshest language against the violence, Ahmadinejad demanded that he apologize, a silly attempt to connect the United States with the election controversy. The Iranian people know otherwise, and Obama said he did not take the demand seriously, “;particularly given the fact that the United States has gone out of its way not to interfere with the election process in Iran.”;

The street demonstrations have dwindled in the face of danger, but people are turning to a 10 p.m. rooftop ritual of shouting “;God is great”; and the recent addition of “;Death to the dictator.”; Much of the future discontent is likely to be expressed in cyberspace.