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Iran's Clerics Remain the Problem

Author: Ray Takeyh, Senior Fellow for Middle Eastern Studies
August 16, 2013
International Herald Tribune


One of the enduring aspects of Washington's Iran debate is its wild oscillations between the hysteria of war and the euphoria of reconciliation.

The Islamic Republic has a new president: He smiles and pledges soothing moderation. The jaded envoys who have been struggling with the Iran issue for the past decade — a period that included Hassan Rouhani's stewardship of the nuclear file — are suddenly optimistic.

It is important to remember, however, that the American diplomats dealing with Iran suffer from a fundamental confusion about the nature of the Islamist state. The United States is accustomed to dealing with opportunistic Arab rulers but not with clerics who take their ideologies seriously. At times, reasonable men have reached high office in the Persian theocratic state only to have their pragmatism numbed by its founding ideology. It remains to be seen whether Rouhani can transcend the obstacles that bedeviled his predecessors.

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