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Analysts Praise Powell Statement on Iran - 2003-07-03

Middle East analysts say Secretary of State Colin Powell's assertion that the United States should avoid direct involvement in Iran's internal politics can have an impact in the region.

Some experts in Iranian affairs are describing as positive Secretary Powell's call for Washington to avoid getting directly involved in the internal politics of Iran, if the United States truly wants change there.

Ahmed Menissy, research coordinator for the monthly magazine Iran Digest, says non-intervention is the best way to support Iranians who are demonstrating for change in their country.

Mr. Menissy says Mr. Powell's call for non-direct involvement in Iran is in fact indirect support for the reformists there whom opponents accuse of receiving "imperialist" support.

Mr. Menissy says that both those demonstrating for change in Iran's strict Islamic rule and Iran's rulers themselves have said they want no outside intervention. Thus, he says, U.S.-Iranian relations could improve with Secretary Powell's remarks.

Pakinam El-Sharqawi is an Iranian expert at Cairo University's faculty of political science. She says that if Washington continues to issue statements of non-intervention in Iran's affairs, it could offset accusations there and elsewhere in the Middle East that Washington is only trying to hurt Iran by dividing it.

"If this kind of statement will be repeated, this language of calming down the aggressive statements against Iran, I think it will be accepted, and it will even reinforce the position of the reformers inside Iran," she said.

But some experts say that, despite the Powell statement, there are many in Iran who believe the United States will continue to put pressure on Tehran, if less publicly.

Hassan Abou Taleb travels frequently to Iran and is an expert in Iranian affairs at the Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies, in Cairo.

He says that, if open support by U.S. officials for reformist movements in Iran decreases, many Iranians would expect Washington to pursue its desire for change in Iran through opposition groups outside that country, as well as through international institutions.

"They will be putting in their minds that the Americans will not stop efforts to make change in Iranian politics," said Hassan Abou Taleb.

Mr. Taleb says an example of such indirect U.S. pressure is Washington's backing and encouragement of international calls for Iran to allow more open inspections of its nuclear program. Tehran insists the program is for the peaceful production of electricity, but Washington says Iran is planning to develop nuclear weapons.