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Cia says iran elections portend new era of repression { February 25 2004 }

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February 25, 2004
C.I.A. Says Iran Elections Portend New Era of Repression

WASHINGTON, Jan. 25 With the victory of religious hardliners in last week's parliamentary elections in Iran, the Central Intelligence Agency is warning of a new era of repression and inflexibility by the country's clerical regime.

A new C.I.A. assessment, shared with Congress this week and described by intelligence officials, says the election has dealt a severe blow to Iranian reformers and strengthened authoritarian rule. The assessment says that a new ascendancy of conservatives will make it unlikely that Iran will change its foreign policy course.

The State Department has condemned the election as unfair, because of the way hardliners manipulated the rules to prevent thousands of their opponents from competing in the contests. But the C.I.A. assessment also blames Iran's president, Mohammad Khatami, and his allies for having squandered their political capital through "their refusal to back bold promises with equally bold actions."

The assessment describes the Iranian regime, led by Ayatollah Ali Khamanei, the country's supreme leader, as "secure for now," but it says that the election results will ultimately "only further deepen the discontent with clerical rule, which is now discredited and publicly criticized as never before."

The detailed judgment was reflected in public testimony to the Senate intelligence committee on Tuesday by George J. Tenet, the director of central intelligence. It comes at a time when the Bush administration and the International Atomic Energy Agency are pressing Iran to disclose more information about its covert nuclear program, and suggests that Iran is not likely to reconsider its resistance to that effort.

While Iran has agreed to open itself to more inspections from the international agency, and has acknowledged producing low-enriched uranium for use in a civilian nuclear power program, it is also "trying to preserve its WMD options," Mr. Tenet said, using an acronym for weapons of mass destruction.

Iran also continues to support terrorist groups, including Hezbollah, according to the C.I.A. assessment, and is seeking to counter American influence in Iraq through a number of means, including clandestine activity.

"The strengthening of authoritarian rule will make breaking out of old foreign policy patterns more difficult," Mr. Tenet told the committee. Still, he added, "Because Khamanei and his allies have kept a close reign on foreign policy, we do not expect the defeat of the reformists to lead to a sudden change in Iranian policy."

Based on the election results, the conservatives are expected to hold at least a 146-seat majority in Iran's 290-seat Parliament when the legislative body convenes in June. The various hard-line factions are united in their support for the absolute rule of Ayatollah Khamenei, though there are disagreements among them on issues like social freedom, economic policy and relations with the United States.

Mr. Tenet told the Senate committee that the C.I.A. expected Ayatollah Khamenei's regime to shut down many outlets for political dissent, and possibly to "resort to new heavy-handedness that produces public outrage and protest." At least eight people were killed and 30 injured in election-related violence last weekend.

In the last year, critics of Ayatollah Khamenei's regime took bold new steps in registering their opposition to it, including the publication of open letters that called for an end to absolute clerical rule. Those protests followed others, like the student riots in 1999, that represent direct challenge to the regime.

Even so, the C.I.A. assessment describes apathy rather than confrontation as the prevailing mood among the Iranian public, and Mr. Tenet said in his testimony that "regime intimidation has cowed the populace."

"This mix keeps the regime secure for now," he said.

In the months after the American invasion of Iraq last year, some Bush administration officials warned loudly about attempts by Iran's Shiite Muslim government to influence events in Iraq through proxies including the Badr brigade, an Iranian-trained militia affiliated with a major Iraqi Shiite opposition group.

In his testimony, Mr. Tenet said the C.I.A. expected that Iran would continue to use its media, aid money, and diplomacy, as well as clandestine operations, "to advance its interests and counter U.S. influence in Iraq."

"We judge that Iran wants an Iraqi government that does not threaten Tehran, is not a U.S. puppet, can maintain the country's territorial integrity, and has a strong Shia representation," Mr. Tenet said.

Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company

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