The Persian daily Etemaad published an interesting article over the weekend discussing the role relations with the US is playing in pre-election politics.
Much to the surprise of some, Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is beginning to be portrayed as the "pro-American" candidate. Over the last few weeks Iranian journalists have been discussing the rumors that the US may open an official special interests section in Iran--short of an embassy, but it's being interpreted as a step in that direction. This, combined with the US' involvement in the latest round of nuclear talks, has Iranian politicians smelling a brewing rapprochement and some hardliners are blaming Ahmadinejad.
Leading the charge against Ahmadinejad is his erstwhile cabinet member and lead nuclear negotiator, Ali Larijani. Larijani, who recently became the Majles (parliament) speaker, is using his new role and increased public profile to criticize Ahmadinejad for getting too close to the US and harming relations with Europe in the process. The Etemaad article mentions that Larijani is advocating for stronger ties with Europe while maintaining the status-quo distance from the US. In this way, Larijani is hoping to rally the traditionally anti-American hardliners around himself by tarnishing Ahmadinejad's staunchly antagonistic record.
Conversely, Etemaad suggests that Ahmadinejad is warming to the idea of US relations in an effort to soften his image for next year's election. While Larijani has proved his influence in parliament and has become an increasingly outspoken critic of the current administration, he lacks Ahmadinejad's extensive ties to the conservative rural classes and war veterans. If Mohammad Qalibaf decides to run in 2009, he could also have a strong showing among war veterans and would be the conservatives' best bet in Tehran.
For Larijani to break away from the pack, he'll have to find a way to become the favored candidate of the hardliners without completely alienating Iran's more moderate middle classes. It seems that he is resisting improved relations with the US to appease the former while advocating closer ties with Europe to attract the latter.
[Image: Majles Speaker Ali Larijani and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad]