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What is Ahead for Iran in 2010?

Aired January 01, 2010 - 15:00:00   ET



CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN ANCHOR: Tonight, has Iran's opposition movement crossed the point of no return? And is the Islamic republic struggling to survive? We'll examine what is next for Iran.

Good evening, everyone. I'm Christiane Amanpour, and welcome to our program.

For the past week, Iran has again been plunged deep into crisis, with the outcome far from certain. On the holy day of Ashura last Sunday, Iranian security forces used bullets and batons to suppress the biggest anti-government protest since June. At least eight protestors were killed, including one who died when a police van reportedly ran over him, as you can see in these images.

Now, the government says that that van was stolen. Nonetheless, demonstrators vented their anger against Basij militiamen, burning their motorbikes, attacking their buildings, shocked that such a crackdown could happen on Ashura.

Government supporters, for their part, were also outraged that the opposition had turned Ashura into a day of political protests, and so hundreds of thousands of them came out three days later. We'll talk with a former Obama administration official about what all this means for the U.S. in a moment.

But we start with some prophetic words from an Iranian woman, a member of parliament who told me 10 years ago that Iran's conservative leadership was out of touch.


FATEMEH HAGHIGHATJOO, FORMER IRAN PARLIAMENT MEMBER (through translator): The Koran gives us freedom of choice. If the conservatives want to disagree with the idea of personal freedom, then they are against the essence of the Koran. But unfortunately, the conservatives are doing this in order to maintain their own power.

AMANPOUR: What happens if you don't get what you want?

HAGHIGHATJOO (through translator): The reform movement of President Khatami has started, and it cannot go back. How many people can the conservatives throw in jail? They can't jail the whole population of Iran.


AMANPOUR: That was 10 years ago. Today, Fatemeh Haghighatjoo lives in the United States after being forced to resign for her outspoken challenges to the regime. And now a visiting scholar at the University of Massachusetts in Boston, she joins me here in our studios.

And from Iran, Mohammad Marandi, head of the North American studies at the University of Tehran.

Welcome, both of you, to this program.

Let me ask you first, Mrs. Haghighatjoo, what is your reaction to what you told me 10 years ago? You basically said then that the government can't arrest everyone.

HAGHIGHATJOO: First of all, good evening, and thank you very much for having me here. As I said 10 years ago and still I am saying, the government is not able to arrest all population in Iran. People of Iran need fundamental change in the country, and I am so optimistic that they will see this change in the country in future.

AMANPOUR: And change for you means what exactly?

HAGHIGHATJOO: Change -- change for me, that means people could see their freedom in the country. They -- this diversity in the country, in the population could be seen inside the power structure in the country. And also the portion (ph) of the government is important for people of Iran.

AMANPOUR: Let me turn to you, Mr. Marandi. Thank you for joining us. It looks like the situation has really reached a turning point here, particularly with the events of Ashura and then the competing protests -- or, rather, counter-demonstrations -- on Wednesday. Many here in the United States are calling this a game-changer. How do you see it from there?

MOHAMMAD MARANDI, UNIVERSITY OF TEHRAN: Well, I think that the -- the so-called opposition -- I say so-called, because there is no monolithic opposition, and there is no monolithic conservative or principlist movement. There are many different political groups in Iran that have different agendas.

But I think that the opposition that protested on Ashura made a very major tactical mistake by -- by carrying out, by being very brutal towards the police on that day, and also by carrying out these protests on a day of public mourning.


And I think that there was a major backlash on Wednesday when probably the largest gathering of people in protest of Mr. Mousavi and the green movement in Tehran's history, really, gathered on Wednesday. They were -- I think that was a defining movement. I think Mr. Mousavi, his letter that was written the day after the anti-Mousavi demonstration, revealed that he, too, was a bit rattled.

AMANPOUR: OK, well, let me ask you this. You say that they were outraged, the government supporters, and yet the protestors -- and as you know, very huge sections of the international public opinion were outraged that the Iranian forces used deadly force, gunfire, against the protestors. I mean, does this not really challenge now the authority of the government?

MARANDI: Well, first of all, the -- the protest -- the demonstration in Tehran, it was -- was not necessarily pro-government. It was pro- Islamic republic. And many critics of the government but who are opposed to Mr. Mousavi participated. As I said, it was a huge rally. But they were not -- it's not a monolithic group on any side of the political equation that we can talk about easily.

But I think that the outrage here was that -- that the MEK terrorist organization, which although officially banned by the United States, it is being supported by the United States under different names, they were involved in Tehran, according to their own statements, and they were -- as you can see in the footage -- they attacked police stations...

AMANPOUR: Which we'll show right now.

MARANDI: ... when a police officer was blinded -- sorry?

AMANPOUR: We're just showing that pictures as you speak.

MARANDI: Right. In any case, I can't hear you very well, but they attacked police stations, they destroyed public property, and they attacked police officers. And at the same time, as I said, it was a day of mourning. Ashura is the anniversary of the martyrdom of the grandson of the prophet of Islam, and it's a very holy day in Iran, and that didn't go down well with a majority of Iranians who saw these protestors clapping and whistling and so on.

But I think that, in general, the protests -- the counter-protests, the protest that was critical of Mr. Mousavi on Wednesday, was itself a turning point.

AMANPOUR: Well, let me ask you then, Mr. Haghighatjoo, you are in the reformist camp, obviously. Do you believe that there are violent elements taking part in your demonstration and in your movement? Is that a concern?

HAGHIGHATJOO: You know, what I am going to say is the people of Iran (inaudible) green movement wanted, you know, requested, demand peacefully without violence. Unfortunately, the government forces try to pull people toward violence. And I would consider (inaudible) scenario by the government, they try to make these crash between -- clash between people in both sides.

And if you look at, since disputed election in June 12 to now, we will see that this protest was silent protest, and that shows that people wanted to do -- to request (inaudible) demand peacefully. But, unfortunately, the government, you know, especially on day of Ashura, you know, acted very violently, bloody against people and protests.

AMANPOUR: OK. Let's move -- since we're trying to figure out what's next, let us ask now about these steps that Mr. Mousavi has put out towards resolution. Now, I'm going to read them off here on our screen. He says, "First of all, the Iranian administration should be held accountable. Secondly, there should be new and clear election laws. Then, there should be the release of all political prisoners, free and informed media, and finally, recognition of legal demonstrations."

Mr. Marandi, do you think there's any chance the government is going to agree to those five ideas that Mr. Mousavi has put forward?

MARANDI: Well, I think the problem is that the government sees things in a different light from Mr. Mousavi. And as I said, there are very many different political factions at play, both in the government and in the opposition.

AMANPOUR: Right, but these seem to be -- this seems -- these seem to be clear requests that seem to manifest themselves under, in fact, the Iranian constitution. Is there any feeling that the government is willing at all to meet Mousavi halfway? Or is this going to be a continued confrontation?


MARANDI: Well, I think that after the anti-Mousavi protests throughout the country on Wednesday, Mr. Mousavi's position has been severely weakened, and I think that is partially reflected in his letter. But I also think that the government is not going to release people, for example, who've blinded police officers or abused police -- police officers and so on.

I do think that there are moves to, let's say, move -- go back to more openness, but I think that the major problem, really, is that Mr. Mousavi has affiliated himself with a more extreme faction within the reformist movement. Even people like Mr. Sahobi (ph) have spoken about how the green movement is moving towards violence. And I myself have experienced death threats every time I come on television to talk about these issues. So it is a reality.

But a lot of the more mainstream reformists, they are moving away from Mr. Mousavi, for example, Mr. Tabesh (ph), who is the head of the reformist faction in parliament.

So there are very sharp internal debates in Iran about policy, about politics, about many issues in the country, but I think that the government and many political factions in the country are no longer willing to discuss serious issues with Mr. Mousavi anymore.

AMANPOUR: OK. We want to show some pictures that we have up on our wall, pictures of Mr. Mousavi receiving condolences when his own nephew was gunned down on the day of Ashura. And I want to ask you (OFF-MIKE) is there, do you believe, a split inside the factions in -- in Iran? Mr. Marandi has talked about people moving away from the reformist movement. Is this true?

HAGHIGHATJOO: No. I wanted to say that, if we have really -- if the government (inaudible) for green movement, then we will see people would side with Mousavi or would side with government. I disagree with Mr. Marandi's analysis regarding weakening Mousavi's position, because the government, you know, try to bring (inaudible) by paying money in some place, by bringing paramilitia to the city, by bringing student from school to the (inaudible)

And I would say this is not pro-government demonstration. Let's see. If the government allow...


AMANPOUR: So you're talking about competing rallies to see whose are bigger?

HAGHIGHATJOO: Yes, yes, and then we will see what we're going on. And then the second issue, unfortunately, I -- unfortunately, I don't think so the government and the supreme leader is going to accept Mousavi's fair position, because, you know, they think they can control issue. Unfortunately, their -- their solution is wrong solution. And this is not real answer to the crisis.

AMANPOUR: One final question to Mr. Marandi. You know, so much has been made and so many fears raised about the actual security of the reform leaders, the opposition leaders, such as Mr. Mousavi and Mr. Karroubi. I've been told that actually a decision has been made to step up their security by the Iranian government. Does that ring true to you? Do you think that they're going to try to make sure no harm comes to those principal figures?

MARANDI: Yes, I think so, especially since his nephew was killed under very suspicious circumstances. He was not killed in the demonstrations themselves. And the fact that he was singled out and assassinated, I think, is something that the many people in the political establishment find suspicious, and they -- they believe that perhaps terrorist organizations were behind it to increase tension in the country.

I also believe I -- I should add one final point, and that is that, within Iran itself, there are -- we shouldn't be speaking about the government and the opposition, because within the, let's say, the conservative groups or the principlist movements, there's no consensus. And the same is true with the reformists. Many key reformists have come -- distanced themselves completely with Mr. Mousavi and the green movement, especially since Mr. Mousavi has more and more aligned himself with -- or at least silently accepted the support of Western, American-backed television stations being broadcast into Iran, as well as former shah supporters and the MEK terrorist organization.

AMANPOUR: OK, Mr. Marandi. What do you say as a final word against - - you know, many people in Iran, obviously, are trying to discredit the reform movement, saying that they're agents of -- of -- of foreign countries. What do you say to that?


HAGHIGHATJOO: Unfortunately, this is analysis of the government and pro-government, you know, people. This is not...

MARANDI: I didn't...


MARANDI: ... for the government or Mr. Ahmadinejad.

HAGHIGHATJOO: Sorry. No reformists in the country will, you know, take (inaudible) Mousavi (inaudible) everybody support Mousavi. After Mousavi's statement, we see many people outspoken to support Mousavi's statement and all reformists, such as (inaudible) Mujahideen and also outside of the country, opposition and Iranian people who just (inaudible) for the country support Mousavi's current position.

AMANPOUR: All right. And we will talk to you again another time. And you, too, Professor Marandi. Thank you both very much for joining us.

MARANDI: Thank you.

AMANPOUR: And when we return, is the turmoil in Iran an opportunity or a challenge for the U.S. president, Barack Obama?




BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: What's taking place within Iran is not about the United States or any other country. It's about the Iranian people and their aspirations for justice and a better life for themselves. And the decision of Iran's leaders to govern through fear and tyranny will not succeed in making those aspirations go away.


AMANPOUR: So that was President Obama just a few days ago. We're joined now by Ray Takeyh, former Obama administration official on Iran and now continuing with the Council on Foreign Relations, joining me from Washington.

Mr. Takeyh, thank you for joining us. You probably heard our other two guests, and we're just particularly playing that sound bite from President Obama. Has he stepped up his rhetoric? And why is he doing that now?

RAY TAKEYH, COUNCIL ON FOREIGN RELATIONS, SENIOR FELLOW: Well, I think it's inevitable as the situation in Iran deteriorates and as you have a greater degree of human rights abuses and government forceful suppression of the dissent movement that the United States and the president would react in this such manner. It's inconceivable for me -- for the president not to have done so, particularly strong language in terms of depicting Iran as -- as a tyranny.

AMANPOUR: What does that mean, then, for his desire to continue or to try to hold the door open for negotiations?

TAKEYH: Well, I'm not quite sure if the two are incompatible. You can have negotiations with Iran, as the United States has had negotiations with many adversarial countries, while also at the same time disapproving of the internal practices of those regimes, now, whether that was the Chinese government or -- or other such non-representative states.

I -- I think you can do both of them, but the president and the United States will have to stand up and declare that some of the behavior of the clerical regime is unacceptable, but also be open to negotiating some sort of a restraint on Iran's nuclear program, which also violates Iran's international obligations.

AMANPOUR: So you talk about the nuclear program. A deadline has come and come for Iran to respond to the -- to the proposals of the West. Iran is now putting its counterproposal.

TAKEYH: Right.

AMANPOUR: Where do you think this is headed in the -- in the immediate term?


TAKEYH: Well, I suspect, in the immediate term, the United States and its allies will try to ratchet up economic pressures on Iran, particularly targeting the Revolutionary Guard organization and its business -- business enterprises, maybe even some aspect of the Iranian petroleum sector, so you begin to see intensification of economic pressure on Iran in the hope that external pressure, combined with internal pressure, will cause Iran to adjust its behavior...


AMANPOUR: This is a tried and true -- Mr. Takeyh, this is a tried and -- some would say -- not so true method, that sanctions and pressure haven't really worked. Why would it be different this time?

TAKEYH: Well, it may not be different this time, but the idea is that you have a greater degree of international cooperation, particularly with a greater degree of assistance from Russia. That may be more hopeful than real, but that's essentially what the -- what the assessment is today.

Now, second of all, is the Iranian government internally is rather weak and vulnerable and it may seek some sort of an agreement abroad to at least mitigate international pressures.

I mean, as I said, this is -- this is a theory. And like most speculative ideas, we'll see how it pans out in practice.

AMANPOUR: You wrote an analysis on what was going on, and you basically compared the revolutionary situation back in '79 to what's going on right now, in that both seem to have, let's see, uncertain responses to the challenges of the regime. Do you think the government -- go ahead.

TAKEYH: Well -- well, it's important to suggest that history doesn't always repeat itself, actually, as a matter of fact, seldom repeats itself. Some of the challenges that the Islamic republic faces today are not dissimilar to the challenges that the monarchy faced. But the situations are also different.

I think the Iranian government at this point, for instance, if the supreme leader was receptive to some of the proposals made by Mr. Mousavi, you could perhaps see some sort of a peaceful resolution for this. But however it comes about, in terms of internal compromise, the supreme leader would have to accept that his power will be diminished, and I'm not quite sure if he's ready to do that.

AMANPOUR: Now, you heard what Mr. Marandi, who supports the Islamic republic, said in terms of saying that it's -- you know, the reform movement is fractured, that, you know, they're agents of the -- of international entities. What is the analysis inside the -- inside the U.S. about the strength of the reform movement?

TAKEYH: Well, in my view, that -- the -- the opposition movement is somewhat incoherent. It doesn't have a central nervous system. It doesn't even have an identifiable set of leaders or even a coherent ideology. It is a protest movement.

But it's been a peculiar protest movement in a sense that it has sustained itself. And the longer it sustains itself, the more ideology and so forth and even leadership will suggest themselves.

And whether they're agents of the West and that sort of a thing, that's just obviously nonsense. And I'm not sure if that rhetoric really impresses anyone. It certainly convinces no one.

AMANPOUR: All right. Thank you so much for joining us. And we'll be back at this subject and hope you'll join us again. Thank you very much.

And next on our "Post-Script," we have a rare glimpse inside Iran's Basij militia from a man who was a defector, with a shocking account of measures the regime is taking.



AMANPOUR: And now for our "Post-Script." We have a troubling report from our colleagues at Channel 4 News in Britain. It's an interview with a man claiming to be a Basic defector from Iran. He was willing to talk about the regime's harsh methods for staying in power.

His identity was concealed, and CNN cannot independently verify his story. But the defector spoke about many things, including how the Basij were ordered to stuff ballot boxes in the June election in favor of President Ahmadinejad.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): For those of us who were responsible for the ballot boxes, the order was this, that Khamenei's wish is for Ahmadinejad to win. We were told you must complete the ballots accordingly for the illiterate and for others who can't do it themselves, no matter who their vote was intended for, the same with the blank votes.

AMANPOUR (voice-over): But even more disturbing than the election fraud was his claim that the regime used rape to intimidate protestors who'd been arrested, a charge that was first made by the opposition leader, Mehdi Karroubi. The militiaman said that, on June 20th, the Basij raped about 100 men, women, boys and girls.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): I heard the sound of screams and pleading and crying. We didn't understand what was going on. They were pleading, "We are sorry. Please, we regret our actions," while screams or crying. We were confused. I couldn't believe that we would do such a thing, to rape. It's as if it's replaying in front of me. The faces, the screams are with me every moment.


AMANPOUR: He says these incidents haunted him and that he's now wrestling with his faith and with his conscience. And to see the whole Channel 4 news report, go to our

That is it for now. We'll be back tomorrow with a different report, a look at the human cost of rapid economic development. For all of us here, goodbye from New York.