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Pundits Say Iran's Conservatives Likely To Take The Lead In Talks With Washington

Several Iranian politicians and analysts with diverse affiliations have said that Iran's next government, which most likely will be headed by a more hardliner president, will start negotiations with the United states.

This is in line with a statement made by Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif in a recent interview with the pro-administration Entekhab news website. Zarif said, "Some conservative figures and groups are sending signals to the United States that Iranian conservatives can work better with the new US administration."

Iran's preisdential elections will take place in June and President Hassan Rouhani's administration is already a lame duck. Traditional conservatives and kardliners who dominate parliament will most likely be the winners of a low-turnout election, with reformists weakened and their constituency demorolized. 

The hawkish cleric Mojtaba Zolnouri, an MP from Qom and the chairman of the Iranian parliament's national security and foreign policy committee, however, has said in an interview with Asr Iran website, that decisions about key matters such as relations with the United States are made at a higher level, meaning Supreme Leader Khamenei's office.

Zolnouri warned the Biden Administration that "it would be a mistake to wait for the new government as governments do not make the key decisions. It is the political system (nezam or regime) that makes decisions in such matters. In this context ‘nezam’ means the Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei.

But the key point in Zolnouri's interview is that he said US negotiations with Iran's conservatives are likely to be more successful "because they are closer to the core of the ‘nezam’ and they are not likely to renege or step back in the middle of the process."

If Khamenei calls the shots, does it make a difference which camp holds the presidency? For Khamenei it might not matter so much but for the conservative hardliners it does.

Proreform website Fararu quoted reformist political analyst Sadegh Zibakalam as saying that "conservatives will win the 2021 Presidential election and will subsequently further the negotiations with the United States."

Zibakalam predicted that no negotiations are likely to take place as long as the Rouhani administration is in power as conservatives will obstruct it, but "Conservatives will start negotiations with Washington in the summer or fall."

Earlier, traditional conservative politician Hamid Reza Taraqqi of the Islamic Coalition party told reformist Sharq newspaper, "all previous negotiation furthered by reformists have led to losses for Iran." Taraqqi opined that negotiations carried out by conservatives can serve the interests of the country. However, Taraqqi had to take back parts of his statement when he came under attack by likeminded conservatives who strictly opposed the idea of any negotiations with the West.

But he was not the only politician who suggested the idea of dialogue between Iran's conservatives and the United States. Another hardline conservative analyst, Abbas Salimi Namin has said, "The conservatives can certainly have a say in international politics where they can defend the Islamic Republic."

Namin backed his argument by saying, "there are several political figures in the conservative camp who are well experienced in international negotiations and are very capable. The least I can say is that they can further negotiations better than the previous [reformist] negotiators."

But that is a claim hard to prove. During the election campaigns and debates in 2013, a conservative figure and an adviser to Khamenei, former Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Velayati criticized a former conservative nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili for "preaching rather than negotiating."

Iranian reformists have often accused the conservatives of not opposing talks with the United States but simply preferring to be the camp that reaches agreement with the West and reaps its political and possible economic benefits.

Former MP Ali Motahari has recently said: "Now that the conservatives have won the Majles and have a prospect for winning the presidency, they know that in order to save the country, they need to correct their foreign policy course...restore ties with the United States."

Sadegh Zibakalm agreed that after the conservatives win the presidency, they will pave the way for negotiations with the Biden Administration as they know that the country has no money, and they need to talk with America."

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