Don't pin hopes for reform on
Rafsanjani, Britain warns
By Anton La Guardia, Diplomatic Editor
Britain adopted a more confrontational policy towards Iran
yesterday when officials assailed the credibility of Ali Akbar Hashemi
Rafsanjani, the likely winner of Friday's presidential election run-off.
Many Iranian reformists, alarmed that his opponent, the
hardline former mayor of Teheran Mahmood Ahmadinejad, came second in the initial
round of voting, have called on supporters to switch their votes to the
70-year-old Mr Rafsanjani despite the fact that he is a veteran of the regime.
The wily cleric, who served as president from 1989 to 1997, has
cast himself as a centrist, and has dropped several hints that he was open to
dealing with America.
But a senior British diplomat dismissed Mr Rafsanjani's
reputation as a "pragmatist", and cast doubt over whether he would
make it easier to resolve the crisis over Teheran's nuclear programme.
"It's important that people do not see Rafsanjani as a
white knight. He has been president for eight years, and a lot of bad things
happened in those eight years," he said. "He does not have a record of
reform, co-operation with the West or abiding by international standards.
"We hear what he says, and we like it. But there is a
difference between talking the talk and walking the walk."
Mr Rafsanjani, a confidant of Ayatollah Khomeini, is believed
to have been intimately involved in decisions over Iran's nuclear programme. He
has been implicated in the murder of scores of dissidents by Teheran's
intelligence services, which he controlled as president.
After years of "engagement" with Iran, in the hope of
strengthening the outgoing reformist President Mohammad Khatami, officials now
appear to given up on the view of Jack Straw, the Foreign Secretary, who once
described Iran as an "emerging democracy".
Many in the Foreign Office believe that the Iranian regime is
"dying" and are pushing for the Government to "align" itself
more with calls for change. Options being discussed include increasing the
number of hours broadcast by the BBC Persian service, and supporting the
creation of a Persian-language satellite TV station.
Britain, France and Germany face a crucial round of
negotiations with Iran later this summer, when they have promised to present
Teheran with new proposals to resolve the crisis over the nuclear programme.
Teheran says it wants to develop nuclear power only to generate
electricity, but America and Europe fear it is developing the technology to
build a weapon.