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06 09 12 - Tehran's Two Worlds- Veering Between =onciliation and Confrontation
Washington =ost-OpEd-Friday, September 8, 2006;
Tehran's Two Worlds- Veering Between =onciliation and Confrontation

By David =gnatius
Armenian reporter of Washingt onPost
TEHRAN -- At the end of a 10-day visit here, I am struggling with a question: =s the Iranian revolution of 27 years ago following the normal arc of history =nd moving toward a rational and stable society? Or is this country still =xploding with radical energy and a desire to export its revolution to other =uslim nations?

The answer, I'm afraid, is that while =st1:country-region w:st="on">Iran =s maturing as a nation, the heat of the Islamic revolution is still =ntense -- and dangerous. This should be Iran's moment, in which this big, dynamic country claims its place as the =egion's dominant power, with commensurate responsibilities. But its leaders seem =nable to make the compromises that would lock in Iran's gains. They have an "up" staircase toward confrontation but not a "down" staircase toward agreement.

The standoff over Iran's nuclear program is =angerous in part because the Iranians are counting on the West's prudence to save =hem from their own actions. You hear over and over again versions of a =omment made at a conference here by Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Ali Reza =heikh-Attar: "Why won't America attack us? Because we consider that America is not naive =nough to do that."

Iran is one of the most surprising and confounding countries I've visited. =t's more modern than one expects, more open, more diverse. You hear conflicting =pinions on almost every topic -- from different factions within the government, =he clergy, the media, the business community. This isn't =st1:country-region w:st="on">North Korea or even China, where a ruling =arty enforces consensus. At the center of the Iranian government is a black =ole, a group of senior clerics whose decisions are wrapped in mystery. That's =he essence of the problem -- there are so many competing factions, and so =any checks built into the system, that sometimes nobody seems to be steering =he ship of state.

Which is the real voice of the country -- the =ulminating rhetoric of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad or the measured tones of =ranian parliament member Kazem Jalali, who insists in an interview that =st1:country-region w:st="on">Iran =s ready for negotiation with the West? Is it the gravelly sermon of Ayatollah =hmad Jannati, who leads the crowd of worshippers in chants of "death to =st1:country-region w:st="on">America" at Friday prayers at =st1:place w:st="on">Tehran =st1:PlaceType w:st="on">University? Or is it the learned discourse of Grand Ayatollah Yusuf Saanei, who =ells me in his seminary at Qom that he favors =ialogue with the West and that in today's Iran, "there is talk of human rights everywhere you =o."

You sense this split personality in the two =orlds of Tehran, north =nd south. In the apartments of the Iranian elite in North Tehran, the headscarves =nd matronly manteaux of the =omen disappear and the conversations are as animated as anything you might =ear in Paris or London. This is post-revolutionary Iran.

An example of this progressive =st1:country-region w:st="on">Iran =s Rajab Ali Mazrooei, who heads the association of Iranian journalists. His own =on was arrested for running one of the thousands of Internet blogs here, yet he insists that despite Ahmadinejad's zeal, "the whole society is =oving toward freedom and democracy."

But in the sprawling slums of South Tehran, where Ahmadinejad draws his power, the revolution =eems very much alive. I visited the famous martyrs' cemetery south of the =ity and encountered Mohammed Rashidi, 73, standing over the grave of his son =aafar, who died 20 years ago in the Iraq-Iran war. "We have no problem =ith another war starting," he says. "Iran is powerful. =artyrdom is its slogan." From the cemetery, the wealthy suburbs of North Tehran are barely visible in the afternoon haze -- distant, another world.

Iran's business leaders know that in a globalized economy, Iran needs foreign =nvestment. "Growth is closely related to cooperation with the international economy," says Ali Naghi Khamoushi, the president of the Iranian =hamber of commerce, at a conference for foreign investors here. But after 27 =ears, Iran =s used to going it alone, and business leaders don't seem especially worried about sanctions. Indeed, Iranians see a perverse economic benefit in defying =he international community. "If we cooperate, oil is $7 a barrel. If =e don't, it is $70," former defense minister Ali Shamkhani observes =t the investment conference.

Upon leaving this puzzling country, I ask =yself what policy would make sense for America and its allies. The best answer may be the same one George Kennan =roposed in 1947 for countering a rising Soviet Union: a policy of containment -- =acked by the threat to use military force -- that seeks to limit the damage =st1:country-region w:st="on">Iran =an do while its revolution runs its course. Kennan's version of containment =orked because the Soviets believed America's military threat was real. The Iranians I met seem to doubt it. Oddly, =hat calm attitude is what worries me most.>


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