Ali Hashemi Rafsanjani, the only major Iranian figure who advocated reaching out to America, made indirect overtures to the Bush administration in the period leading up to the June 2005 Iranian election but was rebuffed, according to American businessman Barry O'Connell, who frequently travels to Iran.
State Department personnel referred pejoratively to Rafsanjani, the political figure best known outside Iran and most favored by the international business community, as "that old fox" and "that old wheeler dealer," O'Connell said. Feelers preceding the election last June were conveyed through members of the Iranian legislative assembly via business contacts, reaching the Southeast Asia section of the State Department. According to State Department personnel, O'Connell said, messages that Rafsanjani was interested in talking with the US were relayed "upstairs" to the seventh-floor offices of the Secretary of State.
The feelers were ignored. When asked whether the Bush administration's opposition to Rafsanjani influenced the Iranian election, O'Connell answers, "Very much so."
In the weeks leading up to the Iranian election, media sympathetic to the administration ran commentary against Iran including that of Bill O'Reilly, who has repeatedly attacked Iran on his Fox television program.
Other impediments to cooperation with moderate, secular or business sector Iranians were imposed in the weeks leading up to the election, including restraints to travel in and out of Iranian air space by a company with federal contracts. These signs were taken by Iranians at the time to signify that Iran was going to be attacked by America.
The administration rebuffs decreased the ability of Rafsanjani to draw support. "He was almost the only one reaching out to America, and they treated him this way?" O'Connell comments. "They said it to me personally, so they must have said it to others. This administration would not deal with him at all."
One export of Iran, aside from oil, is Oriental rugs. O'Connell, an authority on Iranian rugs, has a vested interest in keeping the trade linking Europe, the US and Asia alive. Despite sanctions and lists, commerce between the West and Iran still flourishes. Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi said on Jan. 15 that Iranian trade with Europe overall stood at the same level as a year previously, although trade with individual nations has moved up or down.
That makes it more significant that the administration, with strong business connections, declined to show interest in approaching Rafsanjani. Indications that the administration is ginning up some version of assault on Iran have appeared since spring 2005.
O'Connell says that the administration did not seem concerned about New President Ahmadinejad. There was no apparent concern, at the policy-making level, that a hardliner or radical fundamentalist might be elected in Iran as a consequence of administration policy. The possibility was not discussed as an outcome to be avoided, either in the administration or in right-wing media and think tanks associated with White House strategizing.
Since the election, Rafsanjani has increased in his powers, according to O'Connell. "He is not out of power at all." Ahmadinejad gets the spotlight but does not have equivalent power.
The bulk of power is held by the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Hoseini-Khamenei, in office since 1989, and is shared with the head of the legislative expediency committee, Rafsanjani, and the new president who has received all the global attention.
The White House, the Secretary of State and media neoconservatives have focused publicly only on President Ahmadinejad, whose lurid and inflammatory rhetoric makes their project easy. The National Review, founded by William A. Rusher, who also founded the Concerned Alumni of Princeton and is chairman of the media corporation that launched the most recent attack on Rep. John Murtha, is running articles attacking Iran that parallel its past articles leading up to the Iraq war.
O'Connell points out that, while neoconservatives advocate several months of concentrated bombing of Iran to bomb purported Iranian nuclear sites, those sites are in residential neighborhoods.
Right now, the US maintains a tenuous hold in Iraq because of the majority Shia population which, led largely by Ayatollah Sistani, has chosen to participate in politics in Iraq. But Shia in Iraq would react against the bombing of millions in Iran, where Shia are 89% of the population.
Driving Iranian and Iraqi Shia to oppose the US together would approach the goal of global war between the West and all Islam advocated by some neoconservatives, and also advocated by Osama bin Laden.
Margie Burns is a Texas native who now writes from Washington, D.C. Email firstname.lastname@example.org. See her blog at www.margieburns.com.