In the Arena

Persian Smoke, Persian Fire?

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There are all sorts of interesting signals coming out of Iran these days. Today, the American journalist Roxana Saberi was released from prison, which is excellent news but doesn’t diminish the outrageousness of her incarceration in the first place. This much seems clear: Some faction in the Iranian government wanted her in jail ¬†on trumped up charges–a message of intransigence. And some other Iranian faction wanted her released–a message, potentially, that Iran is ready to begin negotiations with the U.S.

Then we have a very interesting presidential campaign shaping up. It was assumed–it still must be assumed–that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was the favorite to win re-election. He has the power of incumbency, the apparent Support of the Supreme Leader and his populism is pretty, well, popular in rural areas and among the poor. But this Times piece indicates that Ahmadinejad is facing tough sledding…and I also have some anecdotal evidence from a friend who has visited Iran in the past but had a difficult time getting a visa this month, who told me: “I was told that there’s real uncertainty there right now. There’s the election, but there’s also considerable debate about how to respond to the Obama initiative and so they’ve been more reticient than usual in granting visas.” (Tell me about it: I’ve been trying, with no luck so far, to get a visa to cover the June elections.)

The bottom line is: this is good news. Saberi is free. There is something resembling democracy afoot. There is a real chance that the internal Iranian faction that favors rejoining the world will succeed and negotiations will begin (although I’d put the odds that the Iranians will give up their nuclear program as very long).