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Iran's Foreign Policy Realists Take Charge

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On June 3, China's door to the world slammed shut as Iran's swung open. In sharp contrast to China, the foreign policy implications of political trends in Iran is cause for reasoned optimism. With the passing of the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, revolutionary Iran's pragmatic realists are well positioned to guide Iranian foreign policy. Yet most American media speculation on Iran's future has been pessimistic. Editorialists knowingly assert that Iran's foreign policy ``moderates'' will remain on the defensive, or that ``moderates'' never existed. Worse yet, exile sources such as the Shah's son, former president Bani Sadr, and the radical left Mujahideen-e Khalq insurgents have been uncritically quoted, though all have a vested interest in disingenuously portraying post-Khomeini Iran as at the brink of civil war.

Most academic observers of Iran have long known that revolutionary Iran's foreign policy has evolved amidst a public debate between what R.K. Ramazani, author of many books on Iran, terms ``radical idealists'' and ``pragmatic realists.'' The former advocate militant struggle with all ``satanic'' forces in the world; the latter value ``political expertise diplomacy,'' in which Iran's revolutionary ideals are adapted to the concrete realities of world politics. Iran's acceptance of United Nations Resolution 598, effectively ending the carnage with Iraq, was at least partially a triumph of pragmatic thinking. While Ayatollah Khomeini spoke of drinking ``the poisonous chalice,'' Speaker Hashemi Rafsanjani asserted that ``the main issue is that we can stop making enemies without reason.''

Iran's realists remain politically ascendant. Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri's resignation as successor to Khomeini was hardly a loss to the realists. Linked with the radicals who had leaked Iran's dealings with the United States to a Beirut newspaper, Ayatollah Montazeri also had called for the targeting of United States interests after the Iranian airliner was shot down. Khomeini then rebuked Montazeri, imploring him to spend his ``time in building a world of virtue'' by supporting Mr. Rafsanjani - who was blandly advocating that the tragedy be ``discussed and studied'' by world opinion.

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