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Senate, House hotline Iran resolutions

The Senate and House are hotlining separate Iran resolutions to express support for the rights of Iranian people protesting disputed elections results in Iran. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) asked for unanimous consent today that the Senate take up and adopt a resolution submitted by Senators Ted Kaufmann (D-DE) and Jon Kyl (R-AZ). The ...

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The Senate and House are hotlining separate Iran resolutions to express support for the rights of Iranian people protesting disputed elections results in Iran.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) asked for unanimous consent today that the Senate take up and adopt a resolution submitted by Senators Ted Kaufmann (D-DE) and Jon Kyl (R-AZ). The non-binding resolution expresses the sense of the Senate on the freedom of press, speech and expression in Iran.

The Senate and House are hotlining separate Iran resolutions to express support for the rights of Iranian people protesting disputed elections results in Iran.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) asked for unanimous consent today that the Senate take up and adopt a resolution submitted by Senators Ted Kaufmann (D-DE) and Jon Kyl (R-AZ). The non-binding resolution expresses the sense of the Senate on the freedom of press, speech and expression in Iran.

House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Howard Berman (D-CA) and Rep. Mike Pence (R-IN) introduced a separate resolution in the House yesterday on Iran, “expressing support for all Iranian citizens who embrace the values of freedom, human rights, civil liberties, and rule of law.”

“It is not for us to decide who should run Iran, much less determine the real winner of the June 12th election,” Berman said on the House floor today. “But we must reaffirm our strong belief that the Iranian people have a fundamental right to express their views about the future of their country freely, and without intimidation.” The House resolution passed 405 to 1, with two voting ‘present,’ a Berman aide said.

The language in the Berman-Pence resolution is very good, said a Washington Iran hand who asked for anonymity. His concern is that the floor events surrounding the resolutions could lead to beating up of President Barack Obama for not being more forward leaning in his statements on the Iranian protests, out of concern that it would be construed as U.S. meddling and could lead to the protesters being targeted as foreign stooges.

In advance of the Iranian polls, the Obama administration had been planning to ramp up efforts to press for engagement with whatever Iranian government emerged; but the protracted post-elections dispute has confronted the administration with a dilemma of how to express support for the rights of the Iranian people while not saying something that could scuttle the possibility of future direct diplomacy on Iran’s nuclear program and other strategic matters.

“Obama’s agenda of ‘engagement’ with Iran must be on hold for now,” advised the Washington Post’s David Ignatius in his column Friday. “He shouldn’t renounce his offer of talks, but allow it to sit. Let the Iranians chase the West for a while; they’re the ones who need legitimacy.”

Speaking at Friday prayer services in Tehran, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei endorsed the disputed vote count that declared incumbent President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad the landslide winner, and warned opposition leaders they would be responsible for “bloodshed and chaos” if the protests continue.

News reports said thousands of people attended the prayer service, among them Ahmadinejad. “If on Friday, they can’t turn out [huge numbers] for prayers, and you just have Khamenei appearing in front of the Basiji, and there are no mass demonstrations,” the regime is in trouble, said the Washington Institute for Near East Policy’s Patrick Clawson in an interview Thursday.

Of the crowd at the Friday prayer service, Clawson said, “It was pathetic.  They have had a week to organize for this moment, and that was the best they could do? The speech is a ‘screw you’ to the protestors and to [former Iranian president Ali Akbar Hashemi] Rafsanjani. The kind words about him fit an Iranian stereotype: praise the guy you are about to arrest.  No signs of a compromise.”

“Note that Rafsanjani, [leading opposition presidential candidate Mir Hussein] Moussavi, [reformist candidate Mehdi] Karroubi and [reformist former Iranian President Mohammad] Khatami were not there,” the Iran hand observed. “So [Khamenei] has NOT been able to win any of them over. If the crowd tomorrow is HUGE, Khamenei will have to back down a bit or he will risk disaster because crackdowns at this stage can lead to a spread of demonstrations – that’s what happened in 1977-1979…” (In attendance was one conservative presidential opponent of Ahmadinejad, former Revolutionary Guard corps commander Mohsen Rezai, Iran analysts noted.)

Rafsanjani’s absence is “extraordinary,” said former NSC Iran official Gary Sick. “Khamene’i and Rafsanjani were fellow revolutionaries in 1978-79,” Sick wrote to a Gulf list he runs. “Many believe that Rafsanjani was instrumental in getting Khamene’i his position as Leader. Of course, Rafsanjani heads the Assembly of Experts, which is responsible for monitoring the performance of the Leader, as well as the Expediency Council etc. This was possibly the single most fateful speech by Khamene’i in his 20 years as Leader of the Islamic Republic.

“How could Rafsanjani not attend?” Sick continued. “It suggests that he either boycotted, or else perhaps was under house arrest.”

BEHROUZ MEHRI/AFP/Getty Images

Laura Rozen writes The Cable daily at ForeignPolicy.com.

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