Iranian Elections / Serving Ahmadinejad

The deliberations in Washington about opening an American consulate or embassy in Tehran are connected to the fact that this dramatic move would help Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in his election campaign.

Except it's not his foreign policy vis-a-vis the United States that is causing concern to the Iranian president ahead of the election, scheduled for next June. He is probably more concerned about criticism stemming from his perceived failure in implementing a financial policy for the Islamic Republic.

The two issues are connected to some degree. Ahmadinejad's critics say that Iran's financial difficulties, despite its enormous oil revenues over the past three years, result in part from the sanctions implemented against Iran. There is some truth to these claims.

Ahmadinejad's critics also claim that the negotiations regarding Iran's nuclear drive were conducted from an arrogant position on Iran's part, which served to alienate the country's European allies. Still, whether Ahmadinejad is reelected or not depends to a large degree on Iran's spiritual leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. And he has already instructed Ahmadinejad to prepare for another term in office.

Khamenei has gone a step further, and gave Ahmadinejad full backing when parliament attacked him after a statement by his vice president, Esfandyar Rahim-Mashaei, that Iran was "a friend to the people in Israel." Khamenei did criticize the vice president for the statement, but ordered his critics to cease inveighing against him.

Ahmadinejad, it must be remembered, failed in the first round of the 2005 election, and the only reason he succeeded was that Khamenei interfered by enlisting the Revolutionary Guards in the cause of electing Ahmadinejad.

Another question concerns the contenders. Washington is hoping Mohammed Khatami, Iran's former president, runs for office, but so far there has been no indication that he intends to do so. The reformists in Iran largely view him as a failed leader.

The big question is whether the reformists will be able to put forward a serious candidate. This could boomerang by making the conservatives present a more united front.

At any rate, the possibility of the U.S. opening an embassy in Iran would serve both camps: The conservatives would present it as an achievement, and the reformists could say it's a gesture meant to strengthen them.