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Iran Election May Be Key To Meeting Obama's Mideast Objectives

(AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)
Stopping Iran's support of terrorist groups in the Middle East – and its nuclear program – are keys to unlocking the gridlock in the region – and Iran's upcoming June election is shaping up to include some competition to the fiery and radical Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, reports CBS News Foreign Affairs Analyst Pamela Falk.

Iran's Presidential election could prove to be instrumental in what President Obama is trying to do, specifically in his words "unclench the fist" of radical Islam – and the election might see a more reformist, less militant, President – who would be more willing to negotiate diplomacy with the West.

(AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)
The Iranian Presidential campaign is about to begin, with elections five months away in June, and Iran's reformist former President Mohammad Khatami has announced that he would run again if the former Prime Minister Hossein Mousavi does not – because both candidates would represent a challenge to the radicalism of the current President Ahmadinejad.

Because the Presidency in Iran plays a back seat role to the religious cleric or the Supreme Leader – currently the Ayatollah Ali Khamenei – the return to the Presidency for Mohammad Khatami – who served two terms from 1997 to 2005 – could provide a welcome reformist tone and harkens back to a day when the Iranian regime did, in fact, suspend its uranium enrichment nuclear program. The election might allow President Obama to continue with what has been reported to be doing with back channel diplomatic efforts with Iran.

(AP Photo/Hasan Sarbakhshian)
Washington's tense relationship with Iran, which has both radical Islamist and moderate populations, begins with the 1979 Revolution but it saw better days in the late 1990's which soured dramatically with the election of the inflammatory Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the increased support of Hamas in Gaza and Hezbollah in Lebanon.

There will be opportunities before the campaign gets under way for the Obama Administration to be in places where sideline discussion could – but are unlikely – to take place, such as next week's Munich Security meeting where both Vice President Jose Biden and Iran's parliament speaker and nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani will be present.

(AP Photo/Seth Wenig)
With the international economic crisis taking a toll on Iran's oil revenue, Iran's Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki spoke in Davos, Switzerland of the interest of Iran in ending its isolation – but who also met with Gaza's Khaled Meshaal in Tehran and called for an end to the Israeli boycott of the Palestinian territories.

Dialogue with Iran is tricky and has downsides -- but most recently has been supported by the International Atomic agency chief, Mohammad el Baradei who is calling for a renewed dialogue with Iran, after several rounds of U.S.- supported U.N. Security Council Resolutions have failed to freeze Iran's nuclear program.

The Presidential election in June may well present a serious choice to the Iranian people between the current radical Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who is calling for another Holocaust denial conference, and one of several reformist candidates and it is important to recall that another reform candidate – former President Hashemi Rafsanjani – presented serious opposition to Ahmadinejad during the last election in 2005.

How the Obama Administration navigates negotiations with Iran will be tempered by what are sure to be mixed messages, but the Presidential elections are sure to present an opportunity to the Iranian people to shift the course of the dialogue.

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