The United States yesterday called for talks with Iran after
former President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani was elected as new chief
of Iran's powerful Assembly of Experts.
"We would hope that reasonable individuals in Iran would see the
positive opportunity given to it by the international community to
enter negotiations and be able to achieve a peaceful nuclear
program while still reassuring everyone else that it is not simply
a cover for building a nuclear weapon," State Department deputy
spokesman Tom Casey told reporters.
"I'd like to believe that there are individuals in the Iranian
leadership that would want to take what is in effect a rather
unique and important opportunity, to allow Iran to engage with the
rest of the international community," Casey said.
The United States and Iran have held two rounds of
ambassador-level talks on Iraqi security since May 28.
Washington has no diplomatic relations with Tehran since April
1980, five months after Iranian students occupied the American
embassy in Tehran. Fifty-two Americans were held hostage for 444
The United States has accused Iran of fueling violence in Iraq
and supporting militants there. But Tehran always denies the
The Assembly of Experts is an 86-seat body with the power to
appoint, supervise and even dismiss the Islamic Republic's highest
authority, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
It has, however, not exercised the power to dismiss the supreme
leader and is not believed to have directly intervened in
The clerics, many of them in their 60s or more, met to replace
Speaker Ayatollah Ali Meshkini, who died in July. "(Rafsanjani) was
elected as the head of the Assembly of Experts," assembly spokesman
Hossein Habibzadeh said.
Rafsanjani's victory is a further step in his political recovery
at the expense of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, a vociferous
critic of the West who beat the pragmatic, mid-ranking cleric in
the 2005 presidential race, analysts said.
But the change will not herald a shift in Iran's foreign or
nuclear policy nor would it have a big impact on the assembly's
tendency to stay clear of day-to-day politics, analysts added.
Rafsanjani, president in the 1990s, has increasingly sided with
pro-reform politicians opposed to Ahmadinejad. In the speaker
contest, he beat Ayatollah Jannati, head of the Guardian Council,
an oversight body reformists blame for blocking many of their
candidates in presidential and parliamentary elections.
Rafsanjani won 41 votes to Jannati's 34, Iranian media said.
Rafsanjani scored another victory in December by topping the
vote in the Teheran constituency in the December assembly election,
well ahead of a cleric seen as close to Ahmadinejad.
Rafsanjani, who has had a hand in virtually every major
political development in the country during and since the 1979
Islamic revolution, has become an increasingly vocal critic of
Ahmadinejad's government, albeit usually in veiled terms.
Before going into yesterday's closed-door session of the
assembly, he told reporters: "At the same time as defending our
rightful positions, we should not provoke and we should not provide
an excuse (to Iran's enemies)."
Opponents of Ahmadinejad accuse the president of drawing the
wrath of world powers and provoking UN sanctions in a standoff over
Teheran's atomic plans because of firebrand speeches against the
West. They say quiet diplomacy would be better.
Analysts said Rafsanjani's win showed his skill in bridging more
than one political camp and would enhance his standing with
traditional conservatives in the seminaries of Qom, the heartland
of the clerical establishment south of Teheran.
(Xinhua News Agency, China Daily via agencies September