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January 3, 2008

Khameini: Goodbye Doesn't Mean Forever

The man with the real power in Iran hinted that he would like improved Iranian-American relations in the future, although not at the moment. Ayatollah Ali Khameini, the man in charge of Iran's Guardian Council and the true national leader of Iran's mullahcracy, also insisted that Iran needs to generate 20,000 megawatts of nuclear electricity within the next 20 years so it can continue to sell its oil and gas reserves for income:

Iran's supreme leader said on Thursday restoring ties with the United States now would harm the Islamic state, but he did not rule it out in the future.

"Not having relations with America is one of our main policies but we have never said this relationship should be cut forever," Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said in a speech in the central province of Yazd, state television reported.

"Certainly, the day when having relations with America is useful for the nation I will be the first one to approve this relationship."

Reuters plays its usual game with history as background for its readers. See if you can Spot The Missing Part in its recounting of how Iranian-American ties got severed:

The United States cut ties with Tehran shortly after Iran's 1979 Islamic Revolution. The two countries are at odds over Tehran's atomic ambitions and also disagree over who is to blame for the violence in Iraq.

Gee, I wonder what they may have missed. Could it be that the ties got severed because Iran invaded our embassy and kept dozens of American diplomatic personnel hostage for 444 days? Apparently, that little factoid didn't make the Reuters editorial cut.

Iran apparently has had second thoughts about the American as Great Satan policy they've pursued publicly for almost 30 years. Their subjects simply are not buying it any longer. Anti-Americanism doesn't sell with the younger generation no matter how many times Khameini and his minions mention Mossadegh. These Iranians have no personal memory of pre-revolution Iran and the Shah, but they can see how the West lives and know the difference.

They can't just use the US as a theoretical scapegoat for all that ails Iran, either. Part of that change comes from the proximity of American troops to the Iranian border in Iraq. The Iranians have to deal with the Americans now as more than just a bogeyman, especially since the Iraqis now running the country have allied themselves with us despite Iran's best efforts to break those ties. Funding and arming insurgents and fomenting a sectarian war didn't work, and now Khameini and the rest of the mullahs have to deal with the reality of a long-term American engagement on their doorstep.

Khameini may be responding to a series of signals from Washington looking for a diplomatic opening. We have seen this dance before, during the reign of Mohammed Khatami as Khameini's puppet. Once again, the Iranians have played coy, rejecting the flirtation provided by the Bush administration, although not directly and certainly not completely. Khameini has signaled that he no longer wants to talk about the US as a Great Satan but as a potential partner sometime.

Khameini wants to solidify his country's nuclear program, and he's trying to hold off global sanctions long enough to split the Western coalition. A few winks and a diplomatic come-on costs him nothing, and it could be enough to have at least Russia take the bait.


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