The Associated Press described this as an “early victory for the moderate conservatives in the new parliament,” the membership of which was determined by national elections in February and runoff elections for a handful of outstanding seats last month. However, Larijani had already been confirmed for his previous term as speaker under the previous parliament, the hardline dominance of which was supposedly broken by the most recent elections. Thus, his re-appointment can be just as easily interpreted as a victory for the status quo as for the moderate faction.
In fact, the notion of a noticeably more moderate makeup of the Iranian government has been hotly contested by staunch opponents of the Iranian regime, among them various members of the Republican Party in the United States and the Iranian resistance organization the National Council of Resistance of Iran. Their pessimistic view of Iran’s near-term political perspectives seem to have been given significant support in May when the Assembly of Experts, for which elections were also held in February, appointed one of the country’s most hardline, anti-Western clerics as head of the supervisory body.
The appointment of Ahmad Jannati suggested that when the Assembly selects a successor to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, it will likely select a similarly hardline cleric. In a broader sense, Jannati’s ascent to the head of a body in which he only narrowly held onto his seat sent the symbolic message that the Iranian system is still firmly in the hands of the hardliners.
This general point was even acknowledged by the AP in the same article that described Larijani’s confirmation as a victory for moderates. It pointed out that Iran’s theocratic system maintains severe restrictions on the ability of government officials to pursue or pass reformist legislation. In particular, the Guardian Council, on which Jannati is also one of 12 members, has the power to review and obstruct any parliamentary legislation if it is determined to be at odds with the Iranian constitution or the Council’s fundamentalist interpretation of Islam.
Such facts may lead one to question the entire notion that “moderate conservatives” have gained any traction in the wake of the national elections. And indeed, that notion has been subject to serious questions and challenges in light of revelations about how the moderation narrative was shaped by the Obama administration and fed to a complicit or inexperienced media.
Various aspects of this so-called media “echo chamber” have been explored in recent weeks, with one recent topic of focus being the supposed collaboration between the Ploughshares Fund and media outlets like National Public Radio, which received its largess in the midst of the Western debate over the Iran nuclear deal.
On Wednesday, Hot Air quoted extensively from a document written by one NPR executive, which acknowledged that there was an appearance of impropriety in the relationship between the radio news outlet and Ploughshares. Although NPR maintains that this relationship did not rise to the level of creating biased reporting, the executive recommends that similar issue-specific financing be avoided in the future. Hot Air, meanwhile does not accept the claim that there was no real influence, but it focuses its analysis on the fact that NPR has admitted to the existence of a problem that had previously been denied outright.
Naturally, opponents of the nuclear deal feel that this problem runs quite deep. They tend to suggest that it has influenced lasting media narratives about prospects for moderation and has also helped to justify allegedly conciliatory policies that go hand-in-hand with the nuclear deal. An editorial that appeared in US News and World on Wednesday reiterated some such allegations, particularly emphasizing that the Obama administration appears to have made inadequate responses to Iranian human rights abuses and efforts to illicitly expand its military capabilities.
The editorial accuses the administration of being unwilling to take any action that would potential pose a threat to continued acceptance of the nuclear agreement, which technically can be cancelled by either side at any time. This same accusation has been repeated by many of the administration’s critics, who argue that it is going too far in trying to facilitate Iran’s recovery while looking the other way on persistent misbehavior. Last week, for instance, House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce told a hearing that Secretary of State John Kerry had been sending the message that investment in Iran is not only permitted but actually encouraged.
Along the same lines, the administration has reportedly encouraged state-level governments to suspend their own sanctions on the Islamic Republic. Such sanctions involve state pension accounts and other government investments that are beyond the reach of the federal government. And in light of the skepticism about the administration’s posture toward Iran, a number of governors have specifically pushed back against the president’s urging.
The Houston Chroniclereported, for instance, that Texas Governor Greg Abbott wrote a letter this week to his fellow governors throughout the US, urging them to maintain or strengthen the divestment of their funds away from companies that do business with Iran. Such recommendations can be expected to gain greater traction among less conservative states as more evidence accumulates to suggest that the administration’s moderation narrative was erroneous or deceptive.
In addition to the latest developments in Iranian politics, there is a steady accumulation of human rights stories to help undermine that narrative. Some of these even have the benefit of being closely linked to US nationals, thus providing another source of motivation for American policymakers who disagree with the president’s position on Iran. For example, Christian Today reported on Wednesday upon the case of Iranian Christian convert Maryam Naghash Zargaram, who is currently on a hunger strike in Tehran’s Evin Prison to call attention to her denial of medical treatment and visitation.
Christians are subject to frequent repression in Iran, but Zargaram’s case may attract unusual attention in the West because she is a friend and former colleague of Pastor Saeed Abedini, the Iranian-American dual national who was imprisoned for three and a half years for practicing his faith, before being released as part of a prisoner exchange coinciding with implementation of the nuclear deal.
The mistreatment of Abedini’s associates may give support to the argument that that prisoner swap and other apparent compromises were only matters of political expediency and not indicative of a behavioral change toward moderation.