As featured on p. 218 of "Bloggers on the Bus," under the name "a MyDD blogger."

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Ahmadinejad 2.0?

Barack Obama made some overtures to Iran in his Monday night press conference, and remarkably, the President of Iran returned the favor.

The Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, opened the door today to the prospect of talks with the US, less than 24 hours after Barack Obama said face-to-face discussions could take place within months.

"The new US administration has announced that they want to produce change and pursue the course of dialogue. It is quite clear that real change must be fundamental and not tactical. It is clear the Iranian nation welcomes real changes," Ahmadinejad told a rally in Tehran's Freedom Square during celebrations marking the 30th anniversary of the Iranian revolution.

"The Iranian nation is ready to hold talks, but talks in a fair atmosphere with mutual respect."

He said terrorism, the elimination of nuclear weapons, restructuring the UN security council and the fight against drug trafficking could be the subjects of discussion.

The Iranian leader said the world was "entering an era of dialogue and intellect" because military power had been unsuccessful, and "does not want to see the dark age of Bush repeated".

It's hard to divorce these remarks from the plain facts of political self-interest. Ahmadinejad isn't even the person who would agree to negotiations with the United States; the Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei would have that power. It's important to remember that this is an election year in Iran, and Ahmadinejad swept into power as a hardliner but also an economic reformer. Like most countries, Iran is reeling from an economic downturn (inflation is approaching 30% after a series of spending policies in rural areas), and the promise of talks with the West mirrors the promise of foreign aid that can jump-start their economy. This was made more vital for Ahmadinejad when former President Mohammad Khatami entered the race.

Former President Mohammad Khatami, who pushed for detente with the West when in office from 1997 to 2005, said on Sunday he would run in Iran's June presidential election.

The announcement sets up a choice for voters between Khatami and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, whose first four-year term have witnessed a sharp deterioration in ties with the West as tensions over Iran's nuclear work have mounted.

"Here I am announcing that I will seriously take part as a candidate for the election," Khatami told a meeting of pro- reform politicians.

Though a former President, Khatami is seen by reformers as the change candidate, with Juan Cole calling him Iran's Obama. And the curtailing of the Iranian nuclear program happened on Khatami's watch. If the US sought a partner for peace, they could do much worse than having Khatami in the Presidency, though of course Khamenei holds the final decision.

It would be a supreme irony if the man built up by the right as a genocidal dictator bent on global destruction is beaten in his bid for a second term and never heard from again. Guess the neocons would have to find a new villain, then.

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