Iran is holding a parliamentary election on March 2. The two coalitions leading in the polls, the United Front and the Stability Front, are both conservative. The Stability Front, steadily gaining ground over the more moderate United Front in opinion polls since November, is said to be at “the extreme end of the fundamentalist camp.” Reformers just aren’t in the game this time.
The potential for this election to affect Iranian foreign policy or security affairs is limited; Iran’s parliament controls neither, and final decisions on state matters still rest with the Supreme Leader. Still, the conservative swing in Tehran over the past few months is a trend that could have important ramifications for both foreign policy and the nuclear program.
There is currently a behind-the-scenes diplomatic effort underway to stop Iran’s nuclear program before Israel decides to launch an airstrike. Led by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and officials in Washington and Europe, this effort is showing signs of bearing fruit. The Iranian leadership is signaling compromise, suggesting they will submit to inspections on nuclear facilities and give up a quick breakout capability in return for being allowed to continue enriching uranium at low levels for civilian purposes. The West, in turn, would lift sanctions and normalize relations with Iran at nuclear regulatory organizations.
According to Les Gelb, time—and Iran’s parliamentary elections—are working against this plan. Iranian officials are preoccupied with the polls right now, and Israel might not wait for Iran to come back to the table. Sanctions aren’t working, and talks have not yet been productive, they say. Soon, writes Gelb, the diplomatic effort will become “less a strategy than a prayer.”
Gelb, well sourced in the Obama Administration, and with a long career of watching these moves, is one of the shrewdest observers around—which makes his analysis all the more troubling.