Cablegate: Austrian Ambassador to Iran Describes Elections As

Published: Wed 9 Dec 2009 01:01 PM
DE RUEHUNV #0553/01 3431343
O 091343Z DEC 09
E.O. 12958: DECL: 12/09/2023
Classified By: DCM Geoff Pyatt for reasons 1.4 (c) and (e)
1. (C) Summary. On December 3, former Austrian Ambassador
to Tehran Michael Postl (please protect) debriefed MsnOff on
his final calls on Iranian officials as he left post. He
noted that former Presidents Khatami and Rafsanjani both had
extracted themselves from the normal political scene and were
focused on tangential issues where their weight could still
be felt. Nevertheless, Rafsanjani suggested that it would be
helpful if the West spoke out against the election fraud and
human rights violations that followed.
2. (C) Postl said that President Ahmadinejad's chief of
cabinet, Mashaie, made clear to him prior to the Geneva talks
that Iran was planning to approach the talks with a spirit of
compromise and that Postl would be "surprised" by Iran's
attitude. Postl explained the lack of follow-through in the
wake of the talks as a probable decision by Supreme Leader
Khamenei that the West was not trustworthy or that Iran could
get more from the P5 plus 1 than the six offered in Geneva.
Majles Speaker Larijani's outspoken disapproval of the Tehran
Research Reactor deal advocated by Ahmadinejad could have
been an exercise of Larijani's first opportunity to undermine
Ahmadinejad after he was pressured to disavow himself of
knowledge that Iranian prisoners were being raped in jail,
which lost him credibility with the Iranian public. Finally,
Postl argued that the U.S. should focus its outreach to Iran
on formats that Iranians perceive are less biased, such as
BBC Persian's version of Hardtalk or Press TV. End Summary.
3. (C) On December 3, former Austrian Ambassador to Tehran
Michael Postl gave MsnOff a readout of the state of domestic
political wranglings in Tehran prior to his departure from
post in October. Now posted in Vienna, Postl noted that he
still advises the Austrian government on Iran issues and that
he was recently asked to see if his contacts in Iran would
meet with him even though he had departed post. Many said
that they would, so he may be asked by the Austrian Foreign
Ministry to return to Iran periodically to make use of the
excellent contacts he was afforded given his Farsi skills and
native Iranian wife.
4. (C) Postl recounted his final calls on contacts in Iran
before leaving post, noting that many who had refused
meetings with him after the elections were now willing to
meet him. When he met with former President Khatami, Khatami
noted that because of the post-election environment, it did
not make sense to talk about politics. Postl suggested that
they discuss the possibility of Khatami pursuing a dialogue
of civilizations or religions that might give him an opening
to the West. Khatami noted that he did want to focus more on
that kind of dialogue and engagement and that he might come
to Austria next year in pursuit of such discussions.
Final Calls Reveal Disillusionment with the
Possibilities for Change
5. (C) Postl noted that in his final calls, he sought out
a meeting with the new health minister, Marzieh Vahid
Dastjerdi since he was interested in meeting the Islamic
Republic's first female minister. Postl described her as
"sort of a puppet" and very insecure despite her good
credentials for the job. She is a member of the Larijani
family, giving this influential clan placement in the
executive branch, in addition to the leverage they hold
through the key posts of Ali Larijani as Majles Speaker and
Javad Larijani as head of the Judiciary. In their meeting,
Dastjerdi and Postl discussed possible cooperation between
Iran and Austria in hospitals, training, and person-to-person
contacts in the medical field.
6. (C) Postl also called on the powerful new chief of
President Ahmadinejad's cabinet, Mashaie. Postl said that
many believed that Mashaie's rejection for a vice
presidential post showed that there were disagreements
between Ahmadinejad and the Supreme Leader, but the fact that
he was given the slot as head of the cabinet means that
Khamenei must not be fundamentally opposed to him. Postl was
candid with Mashaie, noting that although the Iranian
elections were an internal matter, the treatment of civilians
in the aftermath of the elections was wrong by any
calculation. Postl assessed that using Farsi instead of
English made a difference in the reaction he received to this
candor, and Mashaie said that he would be pleased to meet
with Postl again if he were in Iran.
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7. (C) In what Postl believes was the first meeting former
President Rafsanjani had granted to a Westerner -- and
perhaps the first meeting with a foreigner -- since the
elections, the two discussed economic cooperation, which
Rafsanjani said was his primary focus. They avoided the
topics of the election and the nuclear issue, especially
given the presence of 10 to 15 "watchers" from different
veins of the Iranian government. Rafsanjani was very
interested in non-nuclear energy cooperation and asked very
detailed questions about wind energy, which Postl said
Austria would be able to help with. Rafsanjani also
discussed his sense of how the Iranian government could
evolve, arguing that change must come from within Iran and
that interference from foreigners was not welcome in most
circumstances. Nevertheless, Rafsanjani believed that the
best help possible from foreigners would be to say that the
elections were not fair and to note the human rights
violations in the aftermath, though he was not specific about
what he thought the influence of such statements would be.
Postl noted that recent months clearly had been hard on
Rafsanjani; he looked pale and had lost a lot of weight, but
his eyes were still "active," according to Postl.
8. (C) Postl described the positions of presidential
candidates Karrubi and Musavi as children of the revolution
and argued that neither of them wants systemic change.
Rather, they hoped to give Iran a "human face." Since the
"population of Iran," according to Postl, opposes the Islamic
system, the people are not very strongly behind either of
these candidates. In closing out his comments on his final
meetings in Tehran, Postl noted that after he departed post,
his contacts were questioned thoroughly and aggressively,
which Postl described as a reality of life in Iran and
contact with a Westerner.
Infighting and Confusion Driving
the Nuclear Issue
9. (C) In his discussions at the end of September with
Mashaie, Postl encouraged him to ensure that Iran did not
"miss the opportunity" presented by the talks in Geneva.
Mashaie responded that Iran would be "sure to take" advantage
of this opportunity and told Postl that Postl would be
surprised at Iran's approach, that Iran would come with
seriousness and an attitude of compromise. Postl's
assessment is that Iran decided that this was the right time
to show flexibility in order to get an agreement, especially
since Ahmadinejad wants to claim responsibility for an
agreement with the West. Postl believes that Nuclear
Negotiator Jalili came to Geneva with this spirit of
compromise and was following direction, presumably from
Ahmadinejad. Iran's failure to follow through on these
agreements may have been due to a decision by Khamenei either
that the West was not trustworthy despite Iran's supposed
good intentions or that Iran could get more from the West or
P5 plus 1 than was offered in Geneva. Despite the fact that
people close to the President say he wants "more," the system
gets in the way as do Ahmadinejad's bad advisers. Postl's
interlocutors say that if Ahmadinejad alone were to decide
about engagement with the West, "things would move more
quickly." Postl noted that Khamenei is still respected in
Iran and, in his personal opinion, there is no essential
divergence between the Supreme Leader and Ahmadinejad. On
issues where the Supreme Leader's opinions were clear, Postl
argued that other influential Iranians would not "touch on
issues," even to undercut Ahmadinejad. The only way to
challenge these leaders was to focus on "unjust" or
un-Islamic behavior.
10. (C) Postl said that Majles Speaker Larijani probably
was not in favor of the Tehran Research Reactor (TRR) deal,
but when MsnOff questioned whether he really opposed the deal
or was responding to the fact that Ahmadinejad came out in
favor of the deal, Postl recounted another possibility tied
to the post-election environment. Postl noted that he had
asked someone close to Larijani whether he was aware of the
rapes of election-related prisoners. The interlocutors said
that not only was Larijani aware, but all officials were
aware of what was going on inside the prison. Nevertheless,
when Larijani spoke publicly about the issue, he stated
clearly that the rapes are not occurring and thus lost some
credibility with the Iranian public. To have not given a
more ambiguous response, such as that he would look into the
situation, Larijani must have been under strong pressure from
above, in Postl's estimation. Given the clarity that what
Ahmadinejad had done after the election was wrong and
Larijani's distaste for Ahmadinejad, the TRR proposal may
have been Larijani's first opportunity to strike back at
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11. (C) Postl also noted that Iran probably has whiplash
from the international community's response to the Fordow
Fuel Enrichment Plant (FFEP), which will complicate our
efforts to press Iran into compliance with its obligations.
Although IAEA Director General ElBaradei said after the first
inspection of the FFEP that it was nothing more than "a hole
in a mountain," the IAEA Board of Governors passed a
resolution against Iran, citing the FFEP as one of its main
points (ref A). Postl argued that this probably leads Iran to
believe that the international community is not serious about
the issue, and that, rather, this is "a game."
12. (C) One of Postl's contacts close to the Supreme
Leader pointed him to a Kayhan article from December 1,
written by editor Shariatmadari, which espouses the views of
Khamenei on the nuclear issue. The article argues that Iran
has gotten nothing from cooperation and should withdraw from
the NPT immediately. Since Khamenei has said that he is not
opposed to an opening with the U.S., it becomes about
Washington presenting the right arguments at the right time.
However, Postl said that bringing up the issue of the
detained Americans at Geneva probably fell flat with the
Iranians. Iranian officials told Postl that they were
surprised that American officials raised this issue at those
talks. This was the wrong time to bring up this issue, Postl
argued, since these issues are not connected in the minds of
the Iranians. (We will explain to the Austrians why this
issue is so important and resonates so much to the U.S.)
Postl suggested that the UK model was better: when their
sailors were captured, UK officials said that this issue had
nothing to do with the political problems between the two
countries. The dissociation of the issues worked in favor of
getting the sailors released. Pressed on when might be such
a right time to address the U.S. detainees, Postl suggested
that one such way might have been to capitalize on the
October 1 Geneva talks by following up quickly with a call
from Under Secretary Burns to Jalili "in the spirit of
Geneva." During that phone call, Burns could engage Jalili
on the detainee issue as an aside. Postl also noted that
some of his Iranian government contacts had noted with
pleasure the appointment of Ambassador Limbert to deal with
the Iranian file given his understanding of Iran.
Postl's Tehran Retrospective
13. (C) Looking back on his tenure as Ambassador to Iran,
Postl noted that the biggest "game changer" had been this
past summer's presidential elections. The events were
causing backlash from much of the population. Parents and
grandparents were saying, according to Postl, that they do
not want their children to be forced to experience the same
Iran that they, themselves, have been living under for the
last 30 years. For the first time, one can see "kill
Khamenei" and "death to Khamenei" scrawled on walls in
Tehran. These direct challenges to Khamenei's authority are
new and significant. Additionally, Postl expects that the
population was disillusioned by the overwhelming fraud in the
elections and many will not vote in the future.
14. (C) On engagement, Postl suggested that some ways
forward for the U.S. and Iran might be to look into using a
route from Chah Bahar, on Iran's southern coast, to get U.S.
supplies into Afghanistan and using the assumption of office
by new IAEA Director General Amano to press for "a new start"
on the Additional Protocol and additional transparency
measures discussions.
15. (C) Postl reiterated his message that Iranian citizens
see the Voice of America (VOA) as biased and asked that we
not underestimate their frustration. If they see a pervasive
media outlet as biased, this presents the U.S. in a negative
light and works against U.S. messaging. He said that Iranians
currently are faced with two biased choices: VOA and Iranian
Broadcasting (IRIB). In response to a MsnOff question about
how BBC Persian is perceived, he noted that it is seen as
more neutral, but has the stigma of being associated with the
UK. Postl floated the idea of U.S. support to Euro News to
start broadcasting in Farsi. He also suggested that doing
Hardtalk in Persian might be one of the best outlets for U.S.
arguments since the format of pitting opposing viewpoints
against one another would counteract the perception of bias,
but suggested that if our arguments to the Iranian people are
not convincing, this quickly would become clear. Finally,
Postl noted that the U.S. should not shy away from interviews
with Iranian media outlets, suggesting Press TV because it is
in English and it is watched in Tehran. A program built
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around broadcasting the differing opinions of the U.S., India
(because its opinion is well-respected given its influence as
a leader in the Nonaligned Movement), and Iran might be a
useful way to get our messages across while counteracting
perceptions of bias.
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