Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Gulf Crisis Helps Iranian Leader in Internal Struggle President Rafsanjani Gains Ground vs. Radicals and Pushes Internal Liberalization and Global Cooperation

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Gulf Crisis Helps Iranian Leader in Internal Struggle President Rafsanjani Gains Ground vs. Radicals and Pushes Internal Liberalization and Global Cooperation

Article excerpt

SINCE his election as president of Iran 18 months ago, Hashemi Rafsanjani has had three goals, according to European diplomats based in Tehran: to enforce a less strict and more pragmatic vision of Islam, to break the country's diplomatic isolation, and to rebuild its economy.

In recent months the president has scored several points in his battle against his radical and dogmatic opponents, Western observers in Tehran say.

Mr. Rafsanjani recently imposed changes which were precipitated in part by the Gulf crisis. Though not spectacular, they show that after a decade-long stalemate Iranian society and political life are on the move, these observers say.

When the Gulf crisis began, Iran's political elite was divided into two camps. Those led by Rafsanjani believed that Iran should use the crisis to improve its relations with the international community and should in no way come to the rescue of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, according to a close aide of Rafsanjani. Several members of the legislative body led by former ultra-radical Minister of the Interior Ali Akbar Mohtashemi felt that Iran and Iraq should join forces to fight against "US imperialism," an Iranian journalist says.

This disagreement between the two rival factions led the Iranian government to condemn both Iraq's annexation of Kuwait and the deployment of Western forces in the Gulf region.

But an extremely low turnout at a series of anti-American demonstrations organized throughout Iran on Nov. 4 by the radical faction bolstered Rafsanjani's resolve.

Since then, the president and his ministers have hardened their stance toward Baghdad, according to a Syrian ambassador interviewed in Europe, who emphasized that the apparently diminishing support for Iranian radicals has strengthened Rafsanjani's hand in foreign policy.

As a result, this diplomat says, Iran has dropped its initial idea of providing Iraq with food and medication and regularly insists it is fully applying United Nations sanctions.

On Nov. 30, Rafsanjani said on Tehran Radio, "The international community should put an end to Iraq's aggression in Kuwait by all means, including force."

Western diplomats in Tehran read Rafsanjani's statement as an implicit approval of the deployment of Western and Arab forces in the Gulf area.

Tehran's proclaimed increasing cooperation with the UN has led members of the European Community to lift all sanctions against the Islamic republic. The Community plans to open a diplomatic bureau in Tehran shortly, EC sources say.

On Sept. 27 Britain restored its diplomatic ties with Iran.

Rafsanjani has also gained the upper hand against his rivals on the domestic political scene.

Early in October the president's supporters succeeded, through political maneuvering, in preventing most radical clerics from taking part in an election to the Assembly of Religious Experts. …

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