Wed, March 02, 2011 | WikiLeaks
WikiLeaks: Iran Elections, Disarray in Both Conservative and Reformist Camps, Moussavi too Unknown for Many
Iranian analysts in Iran and the UK see no clear trends or emerging patterns in the campaigns of candidates for President in the run up to Iran’s June elections; London Iran Watcher contacts do agree broadly on the importance of direct engagement with Iranian Government, but prescribe differing tactics and timing for engagement. Several Iranian political scientists argued separately to Poloff that conservatives have been thrown into a state of confused uncertainty, and extreme caution, by possibility of direct engagement with the United States.
Poloff contacts tended to agree that reformists have likewise failed to unite, particularly after Khatami’s withdrawal. The effect of the candidacy of former Prime Minister Mir Hossein Moussavi on the election outcome was hard to gauge. Reformists seemed divided and adrift, with no clear focus for aspirations, an uncertain message beyond criticism of Ahmedinejad, and poor prospects for electoral victory. Moussavi, despite his recent call for greater civil liberties and for a more tempered rhetoric on Israel and the Holocaust, is unknown to many younger Iranians, though remembered by older voters for a good performance as Prime Minister during economic hard times, and appeared less likely than Khatami was to inspire anti-Ahmedinejad voters. Iranian analyst contacts including XXXXXXXXXXXX and other contacts in separate conversations, held similar views of Moussavi’s early history of friction as Prime Minister with now-Supreme Leader (then-President) Khamenei, agreeing that the personal divide between the ex-Prime Minister and Khamenei is the defining feature of Moussavi’s candidacy, and puts Moussavi sentimentally if not ideologically, into the reformist camp.
By contrast, a XXXXXXXXXXXX, attaches little strategic significance to the elections. He argues that U.S. direct engagement transcends the June elections and will, if pursued, have a leavening and moderating effect on Iranian politics. XXXXXXXXXXXX believes U.S. engagement with Iran’s polity will, irrespective of specific negotiating results, moderate the regime’s domestic and international behavior. On the June election, he believes the West is, as before Ahmedinejad’s 2005 election, underestimating the incumbent’s rural and working class campaigning skills and political support.
The cumulative sense of disarray in the campaign conveyed by contacts, as well as the high public interest levels generated by Khatami’s early candidacy, Iran’s economic distress, and the prospect of engagement with the West all creates a complex and shifting set of calculations for Supreme Leader Khamenei, making it advantageous for him to delay declaring his own electoral or other policy preferences until the last possible moment.
Reference ID: 09LONDON923
Created: 2009-04-20 16:04
Origin: Embassy London
PP RUEHBC RUEHDE RUEHDIR RUEHKUK
DE RUEHLO #0923/01 1101645
ZNY SSSSS ZZH
P 201645Z APR 09
FM AMEMBASSY LONDON
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 2046
INFO RUCNIRA/IRAN COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
S E C R E T SECTION 01 OF 05 LONDON 000923
E.O. 12958: DECL: 03/16/2019
TAGS: PGOV PREL PHUM IR UK
SUBJECT: IRAN ELECTIONS; DISARRAY IN BOTH CONSERVATIVE AND REFORMIST CAMPS; MOUSSAVI TOO UNKNOWN FOR MANY; XXXXXXXXXXXX LIKELY TO EMERGE; IRANIAN ANALYSTS URGE OUTREACH, DISAGREE OVER CHANNELS
Classified By: Classified By: Political Minister-Counselor Greg Berry f or reasons 1.4 (b) and (d)
¶1. (S/NF) Summary. Iranian analysts in Iran and the UK see no clear trends or emerging patterns in the campaigns of candidates for President in the run up to Iran’s June elections; London Iran Watcher (Poloff) contacts do agree broadly on the importance of direct engagement with Iranian Government, but prescribe differing tactics and timing for engagement. Several Iranian political scientists argued separately to Poloff that conservatives have been thrown into a state of confused uncertainty, and extreme caution, by possibility of direct engagement with the United States. (Embassy note. Most input for this report pre-dates the E3 3 announcement on April 8 that the USG will join without preconditions the E3 3 invitation to Iran for a meeting. End note)
¶2. (S/NF) Summary con’t. Poloff contacts tended to agree that reformists have likewise failed to unite, particularly after Khatami’s withdrawal. The effect of the candidacy of former Prime Minister Mir Hossein Moussavi on the election outcome was hard to gauge. Reformists seemed divided and adrift, with no clear focus for aspirations, an uncertain message beyond criticism of Ahmedinejad, and poor prospects for electoral victory. Moussavi, despite his recent call for greater civil liberties and for a more tempered rhetoric on Israel and the Holocaust, is unknown to many younger Iranians, though remembered by older voters for a good performance as Prime Minister during economic hard times, and appeared less likely than Khatami was to inspire anti-Ahmedinejad voters. Iranian analyst contacts including XXXXXXXXXXXX and other contacts in separate conversations, held similar views of Moussavi’s early history of friction as Prime Minister with now-Supreme Leader (then-President) Khamenei, agreeing that the personal divide between the ex-Prime Minister and Khamenei is the defining feature of Moussavi’s candidacy, and puts Moussavi sentimentally if not ideologically, into the reformist camp.
¶3. (U) Summary con’t. By contrast, a XXXXXXXXXXXX, attaches little strategic significance to the elections. He argues that U.S. direct engagement transcends the June elections and will, if pursued, have a leavening and moderating effect on Iranian politics. XXXXXXXXXXXX believes U.S. engagement with Iran’s polity will, irrespective of specific negotiating results, moderate the regime’s domestic and international behavior. On the June election, he believes the West is, as before Ahmedinejad’s 2005 election, underestimating the incumbent’s rural and working class campaigning skills and political support.
¶4. (C) Summary con’t. The cumulative sense of disarray in the campaign conveyed by contacts, as well as the high public interest levels generated by Khatami’s early candidacy, Iran’s economic distress, and the prospect of engagement with the West all creates a complex and shifting set of calculations for Supreme Leader Khamenei, making it advantageous for him to delay declaring his own electoral or other policy preferences until the last possible moment.
Moussavi: Admirable but Unknown
¶5. Contacts named in paragraph 3 above characterize Moussavi’s economic ideas and campaign themes as being, like Ahmedinejad’s, populist and redistributive. Moussavi’s announcing his candidacy in South Tehran, a heartland constituency for both him and Ahmedinejad, was a continuing indication of Moussavi’s own reflexive populism, and reflected themes he is likely to pursue throughout the campaign. While Moussavi may try to challenge Ahmedinejad for some of Ahmedinejad’s working class base, most Iranian contacts here believe Moussavi’s critique of Ahmedinejad’s economic record and of regime corruption is not enough to counter the patronage tools and campaign skills of Ahmedinejad. At the non-populist end of the spectrum, Moussavi is thought to offer few natural attractions to those many Khatami supporters now at loose ends, who are likely according to contacts either not to vote (most likely) or to split their vote between Karroubi and Moussavi.
¶6. (S/NF) Moussavi is, as Western media have reported, a virtually complete unknown to Iranians who came of age after
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his years (1981-89) as prime minister. The comments of XXXXXXXXXXXX(urgently protect), XXXXXXXXXXXX, claims to be uninformed about Moussavi, and therefore “indifferent” to him. XXXXXXXXXXXX told Poloff two days after Moussavi’s announcement that XXXXXXXXXXXX had no opinion one way or the other about Moussavi’s candidacy, complaining that Moussavi “has been living in a cave with his art for 20 years — he knows nothing of Iranian politics or about Iranians today.” Arguing that political affinity in Iran is highly personalized and emotion-based, XXXXXXXXXXXX said Iranians below 40, the majority of voters, are politely neutral about Moussavi’s candidacy and, “knowing and feeling nothing” about him, XXXXXXXXXXXX argued young Iranians will not vote for Moussavi, including the many who, like herself, are strongly anti-Ahmedinejad. XXXXXXXXXXXX told Poloff, before Moussavi’s recent moderate statements on Israel and civil liberties, that she expected Moussavi would, as the campaign progressed, adopt rhetoric designed to cater to the Khatami/North Tehran base, but that Moussavi would fail, for reasons already stated, to attract enough support to mount a serious threat.
¶7. (S/NF) XXXXXXXXXXXX noted Moussavi’s youth as a “flower power” university art student, widely known to have included recreational use of marijuana, will not be a factor, as many revolution establishment figures have similar vulnerabilities. She commented that forgiveness by Iranians of mildly “un-Islamic” behavior before the Revolution is common, and reflects the way in which Iranian culture, perhaps distinct from non-Sufi Sunni norms, combines deep religious faith and observance with humane tolerance of human imperfection.
Many Detest Qalibaf’s Security Links but Might Vote for Him Anyway
8.(S/NF) XXXXXXXXXXXX recent travelers returning to the UK from visits to Iran’s urban areas report an intriguing pattern among relatives and friends of a drift toward support for unannounced candidate Tehran Mayor Qalibaf among those voters who can no longer stomach Ahmedinejad’s rhetorical style or economically dismal performance but, in the absence of a Khatami candidacy, have few places to turn. Such “homeless” Khatami supporters reportedly see Qalibaf as a modern and competent technocrat, open to the outside world. Anecdotally, Poloff has heard that Tehran’s visibly swift snow removal and garbage collection have earned Qalibaf an image as competent and businesslike among voters of various ideological stripes. This trend reportedly applies even among those with a personal interest or commitment to civil society who resent Qalibaf’s having been among the security establishment leaders who signed the notorious 1999 “pasdaran” letter to then-president Khatami demanding an end to soft treatment of student protesters.
XXXXXXXXXXXX Allegedly Wanted to Send Message to USG on Qalibaf’s Behalf
9.(S/NF) XXXXXXXXXXXX twice told Poloff, most recently on April 9, that XXXXXXXXXXXX has recently been called and visited in London by XXXXXXXXXXXX, long well known to XXXXXXXXXXXX. The XXXXXXXXXXXX said XXXXXXXXXXXX and other XXXXXXXXXXXX associates, as well as XXXXXXXXXXXX, have been systematically supporting Qalibaf in recent weeks and that XXXXXXXXXXXX, while in London in early April, asked XXXXXXXXXXXX whether the USG would be favorably disposed to a Qalibaf candidacy. On both occasions when XXXXXXXXXXXX floated this information privately to Poloff, Poloff stated that although XXXXXXXXXXXX’s bulletins on electoral developments are always welcome as a matter of information, the USG could not be seen as favoring any candidate in a foreign election, privately publicly or otherwise. XXXXXXXXXXXX appeared very happy to agree with Poloff that full respect for sovereignty, and hands-off other nations’ domestic politics, is the only acceptable course for any government.
¶10. (C) With respect to Qalibaf’s candidacy, XXXXXXXXXXXX agreed that Qalibaf’s nominal withdrawal from the race indicated not weakness but rather an awareness that he is enjoying a quietly building ground swell of conservative support. XXXXXXXXXXXX argued that a nominal, temporary withdrawal from the race by Qalibaf both prevents other candidates from maneuvering against him and permits his
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likely establishment backers to remain in the background until the moment most auspicious for them to announce their support for the Tehran mayor.
Conservatives Allegedly “Desperate” Over Prospect of Engagement
¶11. (S/NF) XXXXXXXXXXXX (please protect) a XXXXXXXXXXXX known to Department, and XXXXXXXXXXXX, opined to Poloff before the April 8 E3 3 communiqu, that, apart from the XXXXXXXXXXXX message, the “silence” of the Obama Administration, and highly consistent messaging from the United States in recent weeks had generated tremendous “unease and uncertainty” among conservatives in the regime, over the timing, form, substance, and likely consequences of direct engagement. XXXXXXXXXXXX, who had had extensive recent interaction with several security ministries in Iran in connection with his civil society-related work, said this unease has created, despite the regime’s renewed repression of media and civil rights, significant new “political space” for the emergence of reformist candidates such as Khatami and Moussavi. By the same token, Poloff contacts such as XXXXXXXXXXXX have opined that many older conservatives, increasingly uneasy with the shifting international scene under President Obama, are coming to see the dynamic young Qalibaf as a deftly modern, but reliably loyal, representative of Iran’s security establishment.
XXXXXXXXXXXX: Nervousness of Authorities Emboldened Him, But Reformists Too Disorganized to Capitalize
¶12. (S/NF) XXXXXXXXXXXX added that this “political space,” and visible nervousness among authorities, was likely contributing to former XXXXXXXXXXXX and reformist presidential candidate Karroubi’s apparent determination to stay in the race even if he may draw votes away from other reformist candidates. XXXXXXXXXXXX(strictly protect), XXXXXXXXXXXX told Poloff Karroubi is in XXXXXXXXXXXX view likely, as a matter of personal pride and “ego,” to remain in the election no matter the damage he may do to other reformist candidates’ prospects and regardless of his poor prospects of election. XXXXXXXXXXXX argued that, with the departure of Khatami, reformists will be unable to generate enough cohesion within their ranks to settle on one candidate; XXXXXXXXXXXX agreed a lack of cohesion among reformists will likely perversely favor Ahmedinejad, and remarked “we Iranians don’t know how to compromise, we don’t know what it is (and therefore equate the concept of compromise with defeat).”
Ahmedinejad Reportedly Rejects Rezai’s Coalition Proposal, and Khamenei’s Studied Neutrality Continues
¶13. (S/NF) XXXXXXXXXXXX told Poloff that Expediency Council Secretary (and former IRGC commander) Mohsen Rezai had in early March sent Ahmedinejad a long (3-part) letter, the existence of which was first reported in the Iranian press on March 15, on behalf of what XXXXXXXXXXXX said are the 14 main conservative parties or factions, proposing a conservative coalition in the June election and in the structure of post-election government. The analyst had not seen the letter’s text but said it had been widely discussed within Iran in unofficial media. The parts of the letters described to XXXXXXXXXXXX did not call for a specific individual to be president, but reportedly provided for Ahmedinejad’s presence in the next government in a ministerial capacity.
¶14. (S/NF) According to XXXXXXXXXXXX, Ahmedinejad in a recent meeting with representatives of all 14 factions rejected the coalition proposal out of hand. Rezai however, with the knowledge and approval of the fourteen groups’ representatives, reportedly sent the same letter to Ahmedinejad a second time; the President reportedly never answered this second submission. Khamenei was not directly a party to the proposal, and XXXXXXXXXXXX believed Khamenei had not provided any specific view on the proposed coalition. XXXXXXXXXXXX agreed the existence of such a letter, and the reported breadth of conservative support for it, was particularly interesting in light of Khamenei’s speech March 20 in Mashad, in which the Supreme Leader distinguished his past support for Ahmedinejad as president in execution of his duties, and
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Ahmedinejad as a possible candidate.
Regime Figures Competing To Engage, but with Different Goals
¶15. (S/NF) One respected XXXXXXXXXXXX well known to Department predicted, before Khatami’s withdrawal, that June elections would be contested by Ahmedinejad, Qalibaf, and Khatami, with a a two-man run-off a week after the first round, involving Ahmedinejad and one other candidate. The XXXXXXXXXXXX noted at the time Khatami might possibly withdraw and noted Moussavi’s possible candidacy; he commented, however, that Moussavi and Khatami, if both stood, would be “dissimilar” candidates, both labeled “reformists” but with different constituencies. The XXXXXXXXXXXX argued that the (hard-to-predict) turnout of anti-Ahmedinejad voters will the biggest single key to the outcome. He expected an Ahmedinejad victory, due to the advantages of incumbency and the likelihood, in his view, that Khamenei will, very late and perhaps only reluctantly, publicly endorse Ahmedinejad. The Tehran analyst argued there is intense competition among regime figures over who will first be able to establish, or be seen as establishing, a visible engagement with the new Obama administration, and win domestic political credit.
¶16. (S/NF) The XXXXXXXXXXXX saw Ahmedinejad as equally vested in the competition for credit. He cautioned strongly, however, that engagement in channels controlled by Ahmedinejad, such as the Foreign or Intelligence Ministries or the President’s own office, would never be productive for the USG, as Ahmedinejad’s equities and world view are fundamentally at odds with any reduction in confrontation with the United States and any reintegration of Iran into the international diplomatic and economic mainstream. He opined Ahmedinejad-controlled channels would have little incentive to keep any USG contacts confidential, in contrast to Khamenei-controlled channels.
Disagreement Over Ahmedinejad’s Importance In Engagement
¶17. (S/NF) In contrast to most poloff contacts, who tend to argue for beginning engagement soon and for reliance on Khamenei-controlled (vice Ahmedinejad) channels, one XXXXXXXXXXXX(known to Department) argued to Poloff that Ahmedinejad will, through his control of the bully pulpit, benefit from the fact of direct engagement regardless of the channels used. This XXXXXXXXXXXX argued against any U.S. engagement until after elections, beyond channels already in use such as the Baghdad security talks. This NGO head offered additional reasons that Ahmedinejad’s political base and world view are both deeply parochial — Ahmedinejad in his view may engage in time-consuming political theater, but has no political equity in lasting reconciliation with the USG.
Brit Historian/Diplomat Says U.S. and Iranian Interests Align; Engagement Will Temper Extremism
¶18. (S/NF) One regular Poloff contact sees the June elections as irrelevant to Western strategic interests. XXXXXXXXXXXX (please protect), XXXXXXXXXXXX, in private discussions with Poloff, severely criticized Foreign Secretary Miliband’s recent speech in the UAE, which called on Arab governments to unite against Iran’s growing regional influence. XXXXXXXXXXXX, who described himself as “not an Arabist,” argued U.S. and Western interests in the Gulf are best served by broad, sustained strategic engagement with Iran; Iran’s national interests and natural tendencies will draw it away from its current destabilizing role, once the radicalizing effect of Iran’s 30-year confrontation with the United States can be removed. XXXXXXXXXXXX believes the U.S.-Iran relationship will evolve via an easing of rhetoric and the re-identification of those overlapping interests which in his view underlay the pre-1979 relationship, albeit on a psychologically different, more equal footing.
¶19. (SBU) XXXXXXXXXXXX outlined his views in an address XXXXXXXXXXXX stressing that: Iran’s regional predominance is relative, recent, and U.S.-created (by virtue of the
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ejection of the Taliban and Saddam regimes); Iran in 2001 showed itself flexible and practical in enabling Northern Alliance support of the Bonn Agreement; Iran’s politics reflect cultural traditions and a pervasive pluralism much more compatible with Western systems than those of other Western partners in the region; Iran in its eight-year war with Iraq developed an independence and self-reliance that deeply conditions its diplomacy now; Khatami may (have been) a convenient public face to the outside world for the regime; pro-U.S. public sentiment in Iran is the widest in the region, and that innovative, pro-western themes pervade the works of Iran’s leading political thinkers (XXXXXXXXXXXX).
¶20. (S/NF) The apparent broad disarray in Iran’s election campaign described by Poloff contacts, serves to underline both the overshadowing role the Supreme Leader plays as arbiter and final authority across most IRI institutions, as well as his role as a balancer of competing forces and groups. This dynamic may apply as much to Iran’s diplomacy as to its electoral campaigns. Khamenei’s current leverage may stem more from his option to continue to remain silent, avoiding decision and forcing domestic players to anticipate his views, than from his option to declare now for a particular candidate (or diplomatic course of action).
¶21. (S/NF) Once Khamenei publicly commits himself to one candidate, all other actors, both the one enjoying his support as well as those denied it, may become freer to react. Khamenei would then be left little flexibility, due to the danger of loss of prestige, to again alter course if needed, in the event of changed electoral, economic, or diplomatic circumstances. For purposes of Iran’s June elections, and perhaps in regard to international policy calculations as well, the Supreme Leader has strong reasons to keep all his cards in his hand until the last possible moment. Visit London’s Classified Website: XXXXXXXXXXXX