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The Many Faces of Iran

The European Union’s foreign policy chief Javier Solana and Iran’s top nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani have been meeting in recent days to discuss ways to resolve Iran’s nuclear standoff with the West. Tehran recently hinted that it would be willing to freeze its uranium enrichment program for two months in a bid to jumpstart talks with the European Union and the United States.

Iranian journalist Afshin Molavi, a fellow at the New America Foundation, calls Iran’s reported offer “significant.” Speaking with host Judith Latham of VOA News Now’s International Press Club, Mr. Molavi says there is serious debate within Iran about the efficacy of negotiations with the international community. If one examines the history of nuclear negotiations, he observes, the Iranian government has “tended to get a better deal when they have been more defiant.” Regarding the controversial US visit of former Iranian president Mohammed Khatami, Afshin Molavi, author of The Soul of Iran, says the former president “clearly has differences” with President Ahmadinejad. He says in many ways the American public has seen what “frustrates” Iranians about Mr. Khatami. That is, he speaks in a very “appealing way” when talking about “theoretical concepts” of dialogue and tolerance, but when questioned about “specific instances” of human rights abuse during his presidency or about statements that are “particularly reprehensible” and conflict with his “lofty rhetoric,” Mr. Khatami’s answers are “largely unsatisfactory.”

But Iranian journalist Ali-Reza Nourizadeh, now director of the Center for Arab-American Studies in London, says he thinks people should not attach too much importance to former President Khatami’s visit because his speeches are “unlikely” to change U.S. policy toward Iran. Mr. Nourizadeh notes, however, that much of what the former president’s said during his U.S. visit “contradicts current Iranian policy,” such as President Ahmadinejad’s denial of the Holocaust and his idea of a “crusade between Christianity and Islam,” demonstrating that not all Iranians hold the radical views.

However, Matthias Rueb, Washington bureau chief of the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, says Germans generally perceive the former Iranian president as a “nice guy” whose views are not really important because President Ahmadinejad and the other “political-religious leaders” make the actual decisions. On the other hand, Mr. Rueb says, the recent Iranian talk about suspending uranium enrichment activities for two months does offer a “glimmer of hope.” But he questions whether this might be just a “tactic to buy time.”

Buying time is exactly what Ali-Reza Nourizadeh says he thinks the Iranians are doing. He asserts that Iran’s nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani will keep the Europeans engaged in “endless negotiations.”