Iran Election Guide

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The Latest from Iran (31 July): And Now....?

The Latest from Iran (1 August): The Regime Gets Tough

Iran: How Big is the Green Wave?
Iran's "40th Day" Memorial: An Eyewitness Account
Beyond the Wave: Why the US Still Engages with Iran

The Latest from Iran (30 July): Memorial Day
Latest Iran Video: The “40th Day” Memorial (30 July)
Latest Iran Video: The “40th Day” Memorial (30 July – Part 2)

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IRAN 40 DAY 31650 GMT: Release the Prisoners! I am just going to re-print this from Fars News Agency and await confirmation that 25 percent of Iran's prison population will soon be freed:
17,000 prisoners were freed after amnesty and commutation of punishment term of a number of prisoners by the Supreme Leader," State Prisons Organization's Deputy Director for Management and Resource Development Mohammad Ali Zanjirehi told FNA on Friday.

"40 percent of the country's inmates, who account for around 68,000 people, were liable to the amnesty," Zanjirei said, adding that 17,000 out of the 68,000 inmates have been freed and the rest have enjoyed commutation of their terms or will be granted leaves in final months of their incarceration.

The decree, originally proposed by Judiciary Chief Ayatollah Seyed Mahmoud Hashemi Shahroudi, was issued by the Leader on the occasion of the feast of Mab'ath, marking assignment of Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) to prophethood.

1555 GMT: Don't Forget That Foreign Threat. Iran's Foreign Minister, Manouchehr Mottaki, who has been gone unnoticed since the 12 June election, popped up today to appear at Friday prayers in Tehran and then try his hand with the "foreign agents" speech:
Western and European countries, with their overt and covert capabilities, interfered in Iran's election... the worst among them being Britain. The countries who interfered through their television networks by telling how to instigate riots, build explosives and other tension creating activities are accomplices in all the committed crimes, murders and are held responsible.

1540 GMT: Some, However, Are Not Ready for Compromise. Defying calls for concilation, the Ministry of Intelligence has threatened the Freedom Movement of Iran (the party of nationalist Iranian Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadegh in the 1950s) with dire consequences if they do not stop holding political meetings inside their headquarters. The Party has lodged an official complaint with the head of Iran's judiciary.

1535 GMT: Look Past Jannati. The trend in clerical statements in the last 24 hours, apart from Friday prayers in Tehran, has been a call for compromise and action on detainees (see 1510 and 1520 GMT). That fits a report from Salaam News that Grand Ayatollahs have been discussing vital "issues", and most except Ayatollah Noori-Hamedani (an ardent Ahmadinejad supporter) "have taken a similar stance against the attacks of fundamentalism".

1520 GMT: A Different Prayer Address. If Ayatollah Jannati played the hard-liner in Friday prayers in Tehran, Ayatollah Ebrahim Amini played the liberal in Qom. Amini stated:
The young have sensitive souls and do not tolerate injustice, and we must not label the young as being anti-revolutionaries and try to distance them from the revolution....The words of the young must be heard, and if they are correct, [what they say] must be accepted. If it is not right they must be advised correctly with gentle tones and respect. The young must be advised to value this revolution that was achieved at great cost to society....We must keep the young by our side not be words but by deeds and by showing them the real face of Islam.

Amini addressed specific issues such as detention, saying , the directive of Iran's head of  judiciary, Ayatollah Hashemi Shahroudi, clarifying the situation of the prisoners, "must be attended to... to alleviate the anxiety of their families....I wish Mr Sharoudi would have stated that the detainees and the arrested will be treated with Islamic kindness." At the same time, he supported Ayatollah Khamenei's authority, "The principle of supreme leadership is an important foundation of the establ0ishment and we all have the duty to protect this principle."

1515 GMT: Shajarian Wins! We have reported on the case of the Iranian classical singer Mohamad Reza Shajarian, who demanded that Iranian state media stop playing his music after President Ahmadinejad called his opponents "dust". The Deputy Head of Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting has declared, "From now on, no more Shajarian will be broadcast from IRIB, even during Ramadan."

1510 GMT: Looking for Compromise. Ayatollah Nasser Makarem-Shirazi, addressing pilgrims at the Imam Reza Shrine in Mashad yesterday, said different political factions should stop fighting and meet with each other to reach an agreement, moving away from the "literature of conflict that exists in the media". The ayatollah said the issues of the prisoners must be resolved quickly; those who are innocent or whose misdemeanors are forgivable by Islamic kindness should be freed immediately, and hthose who have broken the law significantly must have their cases resolved quickly.

1315 GMT: Ahh, There He Is. Having cleared out of Tehran before yesterday's events, President Ahmadinejad has used a speech in Mashaad today to assure everyone that, despite portrayals by his political rivals, there is no rift between him and the Supreme Leader:
This is not a political relationship ... our relationship is based on kindness. It is like a relationship between a father and his son. Your efforts will bear no fruit. This road is closed for those devils who dream about harming our relationship. Their dream will be buried along with them.

The summary from Reuters gives no indication whether Ahmadinejad referred to the dispute with Ayatollah Khamenei over the appointment of the 1st Vice President, Esfandiar Rahim-Mashai. At Friday prayers in Tehran, Ayatollah Jannati, while defending Ahmadnejad against "plotters", did bring up the matter: ""Such appointments hurt your supporters ... A key position should not be given to a person who is not respected."

In light of that criticism, is Ahmadinejad's speech a gesture of apology to the Supreme Leader, ahead of his inauguration on 5 August, or will he try to restore some political authority and independence?

1300 GMT: Tehran Police Commander Azizollah Rajabzadeh has said 50 people were arrested in Behesht-e-Zahra cemetery and the Grand Mosala yesterday.

1205 GMT: More on Jannati's Address (see 1130 GMT). The Ayatollah highlighted the statement of 205 Members of Parliament in support of the Supreme Leader (which, of course, does not mean that they support Ahmadinejad). He carried out the confrontation with Hashemi Rafsanjani by returning to the disputed letter from the Assembly of Experts. Even though this was signed by only 16 of 86 members, it was still valid; most of those who could not sign, because they were scattered throughout the country for the summer, supported the initiative.

1145 GMT: An intriguing comment from a participant in Lara Setrakian's summary of yesterday's memorial: "Police were sympathetic with the people [and] told us in which row we could find Neda's grave."

1130 GMT: Getting Tough. Unfortunately, the live tweet of Ayatollah Jannati's address broke down halfway through; however, Fars News has now posted a report, and it's clear that Jannati is ready for a fight.

The Ayatollah claimed that there were those who plotted four years ago to keep President Ahmadinejad out of power, despite his 7-million vote majority and that these people were now trying "to take revenge". In the face of this threat, there should be no question of legimitacy: "If the election is invalid, then all elections of the last 30 years should be declared invalid because the process has always been the same."

Nor was Jannati subtle in his religious context for this political assertion, highlighting Prophet Mohammad's facing of his enemies and his resolve to maintain unity.

It doesn't take a genius to do the rhetorical and political mathematics. In 2005 President Ahmadinejad's second-round opponent was Hashemi Rafsanjani, the man whom Jannati is trying to depose as head of the Assembly of Experts. Welcome to the next round of this heavyweight battle.

1125 GMT: We're trying to track down an English-language summary of Ayatollah Jannati's address. Press TV English's website is silent.

0900 GMT: Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati, a key member of the regime as Secretary of the Guardian Council, is giving the address at Friday prayers in Tehran today. (Jannati was one of the pro-Government members of the Assembly of Experts who tried to curb Hashemi Rafsanjani last week, putting out a statement signed by only 16 of the 86 representatives on the Assembly.)

So far the address is focusing on the need for unity, citing a petition from the Prophet Mohammad, the Yasrab, and calling on people to follow the regime. It is being "live tweeted" at the moment.

0700 GMT: Two items of note from The Huffington Post. First, Kevin Sullivan asserts, "Western Hubris Won't Reform Iran". While I differ from Sullivan's reading of developments inside Iran, his conclusion is valuable:
All of this is terribly exciting. It's also out of our control, and that's a good thing. History often needs the proper room to breathe, not the breathless instigation of a hubristic few.

Let these "greens" grow on their own.

Which makes it just a bit ironic that, in the same paper, Melody Moezzi is proclaiming, "Iran's Red Tulip Revolution".

Humble suggestion: don't impose a label on this movement. Not a plant like "Cedar". Not a colour like "Orange" or "Rose". And certainly not "Velvet".

0650 GMT: The Wall Street Journal, relying on a leaked document, reports:
A privately owned German company, Knauf Gips KG, warned its Iranian employees working in Iran that they would be immediately dismissed if caught in antigovernment protests....

Iran's government pressured Knauf to issue the order after a senior executive was arrested during Friday prayer demonstrations two weeks ago, according to people familiar with the case. The company, which has 22,000 employees around the world, was told that such a letter would be a condition for the executive's release.

An executive of Knauf, which makes drywall, warned in the letter:
We would like to remind all of our employees to remember that they are not only representing their private opinion when being politically active, but their actions could fall back negatively on our Knauf companies in Iran. Therefore, from now on, if anybody from our company gets caught demonstrating against the current government, he or she will be immediately dismissed.

0630 GMT: A quieter start today, so we've taken the opportunity to write a special analysis of what may be next both for the Iranian Government and for the opposition, "How Big is the Green Wave?".

0505 GMT: Press TV English's latest report is one of cautious understatement, both of the events and of numbers: "Police have dispersed hundreds of Iranians who sought to gather in a cemetery south of the capital of Tehran to commemorate those killed in the post-election unrest." The brief item, however, did refer to police use of tear gas, to the appearance of Mehdi Karroubi and Mir Hossein Mousavi (before he was turned back by security forces), and to the mourners' attempts to gather at the Grand Mosala.

While there was no reference to demonstrations elsewhere in Tehran and outside the capital, Press TV is also refraining from language criticising the protestors and their challenge to the 12 June election.

0500 GMT: News of a death that was lost amidst yesterday's memorial: "On Wednesday, the Paris-based monitoring group Reporters Without Borders urged authorities to explain the death of journalist Alireza Eftekhari on June 15. His body was handed over to relatives on July 13. A news release said Eftekhari died from a severe beating."

Iran's "40th Day" Memorial: An Eyewitness Account

The Latest from Iran (30 July): Memorial Day
Latest Iran Video: The “40th Day” Memorial (30 July)
Latest Iran Video: The “40th Day” Memorial (30 July – Part 2)

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IRAN 40 DAY 4I received, via  a discussion list, the following account by a participant in yesterday's events in Tehran. A few minutes later, a reader referred to its appearance on the Internet when commenting on our daily updates. Amidst many excellent reports of Memorial Day, we post this as both an emotional and political marker of the post-election developments in Iran:

Today marked the 40th day anniversary of the killings of such youth as Neda Agha Soltan and Sohrab Aarabi in Iran’s post-election demonstrations. We headed to Behesht Zahra Cementary in the afternoon to join the 4pm ceremony at their gravesites. Behesht Zahra is about a one hour drive south of Tehran and as we neared the cementery, about five police cars and officers were directing traffic. Waiting to enter the cementery compound in the traffic, one of my companions pulled down the window and half jokingly asked the police officer what was going on. He smiled back and said, “nothing, just go towards row 257.” For those not familiar with Behesht Zahra, it’s an enormous cementery with wide avenues and squares. Knowing it would take us a while to find our destination, the police officer decided to help by telling us in which row we could find Neda’s grave (others in Behesht Zahra would help lost drivers by directing them to Neda. That’s all people said: “Neda ounjast” (Neda is there), pointing in the direction of her grave). Throughout the ceremony it was obvious the police force was very sympathetic with the people (as opposed to the anti-riot police and the revolutionary guard factions that were present in large numbers and were standing by the graves of both Neda and Sohrab).

By the time we arrived to their graves, it was 4.30pm and about 150,000-200,000 had gathered there. Most had on green ribbons and shouted in unison: “Neda-ye ma namordeh, ein dolat-e ke morde” (Our Neda is not dead, it is this government that is dead). Her grave was covered in flowers and candles, as was the grave of Sohrab, just a few feet away. The demonstration was held about 75 feet from the graves and was where the majority of the people had gathered. The main difference between this gathering and the other gatherings in the past two months was that the slogans for this gathering were very highly charged and at times extremely revengeful. People shouted: “ma bache-haye jangim, bejang ta bejangim” (we’re the children of war, fight and we’ll fight back); “mikosham ani ke baradaram ra kosht” (I will kill he who killed my brother). There was no more talk of reclaiming the vote, but of getting rid of this “coup” government; the most numerous chant was “Death to the dictator.” The anger could be felt at this gathering (which for me was a very ominous sign of worse things to come) and there was a very palpable lack of fear among people. Both Mir Hossein Moussavi and Karoubi had shown up at the gathering earlier in the afternoon.

We stayed for nearly two hours and decided to leave when we saw the security forces getting larger in number. As we left, we heard that they had hit some with batons and we could feel the tear gas in the air. A few minutes later reports emerged that Jafar Panahi, the award-winning filmmaker was arrested, as was Mahnaz Mohammadi, a documentary filmmaker and a women’s rights activist. They have both been taken to an unknown location.

As we left the cementery, the honking of the cars began: most cars were heading into Tehran to try to get as close to Mosallah as possible (the large mosque in central Tehran where Mousavi and Karoubi had asked to hold a ceremony of those killed last month—the interior ministry did not give the permission for the gathering, but people had decided to show up there at 6 regardless). Every car driving out of Behesht Zahar was honking their horns and all drivers and passengers had their hands out of their cars in the peace sign. The police tried to discourage drivers from driving the main highway that would lead to central Tehran, but very few listened. Soldiers standing along the streets flashed the peace sign back at the honking cars with large smiles on their faces. It was obvious the soldiers and police forces were with the people.

As we reached my grandmother’s house, which is just a few streets away from Mosallah, we saw people running from motorcycles (the Basij), who tried to taser them, and the protestors encouraged us to turn our windows up so the tear gas wouldn’t hurt us. Residents came out of their homes and began small fires on the corners (to help against the tear gas). The streets were completely overtaken by protestors who were in a cat and mouse game with the security forces, all on motorcycles. We parked the car and went onto Valiasr Street (the main boulevard in Tehran that runs from north to south). The city was covered in a haze from all the tear gas and fires started on the corners. All roads leading to Mosallah were witness to huge confrontations between people and the security forces.
As we arrived on Valiasr people were spilt on different sides of the sidewalk: one side would shout slogans, the anti-riot police would attack with their batons and paint-ball guns (to mark the protestors to pick them up later), then the other side of the side-walk would start the chanting, so the anti-riot police would be forced to come to this side. As they attacked one side of the sidewalk, the protestors on the opposite side would come out of the side streets they had just run into and gather, regroup, and chant again. This continued for hours. When the anti-riot police disappeared for a bit, people lit candles and put them on the sidewalks, to commemorate the deaths of Neda, Sohrab, and the others. At one point we had managed to cover one section of the street in candles. As soon as the plainclothes militia saw the sidewalk lit in candles, they approached, stomped them out, and began hitting people. No one turned away. They would attack us, we’d run into the side streets and reemerge less than one minute later. The most haunting scene was when protestors had gathered at the beginning of Takht-tavvos Street and were shouting “Death to the Dictator.” The anti-riot police gathered on their mothercycles (two per motorcycle, all in cameflouge uniform, with full riot gear) in the middle of the street and their leader began pumping them up (it looked like a huddle during a football game—it was disgusting). He got them riled up, spun his baton in the air three times, and then they attacked (there were about 30 motorcycles, all in full gear). As they attacked the protestors in the street, some from the side began throwing stones at them, and all began cursing.

The anti-riot police would also drive up in cars and try to get people to move along and not congregate. People would walk slowly, then turn right back around. There was no more fear. They attacked, people retreated in the side-streets, then would come back out in less than one minute as soon as the motorcycles had gone off. There were so many protesters, and they were spread out all throughout Tehran (Valiasr Square, Fatemi Square, Yousefabad, Vanak Square, Mosallah, Sanati Square, Amirabad, Revolution Square, Tajrish Square….all the main streets and squares of Tehran were full of people and it seemed for the first time that the forces simply were not enough).

The security forces were using batons, chains, whips, tasers, paint-ball guns, and I saw handguns in the hands of three of them. There was a rumor that a few were shot at in Vanak Square. Two people were picked up near us and people tried to chase after the security forces to get the young men back, but it was a futile chase. Until around 11pm the streets were full of people. At 10pm the shouts of Allah-o Akbar and Death to the Dictator were being screamed from the rooftops all over the city until 10.30pm.

Friends in Isfahan also reported that 4-5,000 people had gathered there and there were no security forces at all present. This was the first such gathering on a large scale in Isfahan since the first week after the election. Reports also came of gatherings in the thousands in cities of Rasht, Shiraz, Mashad.

People of all ages, sexes, and socio-economic groups were out today. We ran into many at the cementery who had driven in from the provinces to attend the 40th day ceremony. Religious men and women were numerous at the gravesite, as were non-religious men and women. Children were out (at one point on the street back in Tehran I saw a group of two brothers and one sister, the youngest about 7 and the eldest 14, walking hand in hand down the street). Middle aged and older people would turn to us and say “we’re out on the streets for you guys, this is for your future, for your generation.” One mother told a soldier who asked her to go back home “I’m not going anywhere. Don’t you know that we brought you guys into power by doing just this: by being out on the streets for nights on end. We brought you to where you are today, and we’re going to take you out by being on the streets. I’m not going anywhere.”

Iran: How Big is the Green Wave?

The Latest from Iran (31 July): And Now….?

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IRAN 40 DAYIn light of yesterday's rush of events --- some tense, some moving, some confusing, all demonstrating that the issues in Iran have moved beyond a challenge over a disputed Presidential election --- how significant is the pressure for "something to be done" about the Iranian system? And what exactly is to be done?

Borzou Daragahi and Ramin Mostaghim of the Los Angeles Times, who excelled in their coverage of the "40th Day" memorial, offer one dramatic answer:
Protesters swarmed Tehran's main cemetery and fanned out across a large swath of the capital Thursday, defying truncheons and tear gas to publicly mourn those killed in weeks of unrest, including a young woman whose death shocked people around the world....Thirty years ago, such commemorations helped build momentum for the Islamic Revolution that overthrew the shah. The resilience of the thousands of protesters this time set the stage for more clashes next week, when hard-line President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is to be inaugurated for a second term.

"Momentum" for "the overthrow" of the regime? Hmm....

Understandably, Daragahi and Mostaghim, who was in Tehran, were caught up in the excitement of an extended moment, both at Behesht-e-Zahra cemetery and then across the capital as demonstrations continued late into the night. It's the next morning, however, and excitement gives way to reflection and a view of a murkier political situation. The assessment we offered on 18 July, the day after Hashemi Rafsanjani's Friday prayers in Tehran, still seems apt:
Given the expectations of the Movement, and the realities that political manoeuvre vs. a hostile President and legislative action (not to mention the Supreme Leader’s endorsement) take time, is [a new political front] enough?....[These events are] a reminder, in an Iran of “gradual revolution”, of marathon not sprint.

This caution should not overshadow the symbolic and political power of yesterday's memorial. There will never be a result in the numbers game --- viewing footage and carefully reading reports, the CNN figure of 3000 at Behest-e-Zahra cemetery seems far too low while the estimate of 40,000, offered by Mardamak, Norooz, and the Los Angeles Times may be optimistic --- but the precise figure is not that important. Thousands, maybe tens of thousands, responded to the call to show up in tribute to the martyrs of 20 June. They did so despite confusion over the exact plans, concern over the response of security forces, and warnings from the regime, both in rhetoric (see the statement of the chief prosecutor Mortazavi yesterday in anticipation of Saturday's first trials of demonstrators) and in further arrests.

And we will never know how many thousands, maybe tens of thousands, were scattered across Tehran and beyond in further marches and shows of support for the Green Movement. The Government's restrictions on the alternative media are crumbling, which meant that video came out at a rate which overwhelmed our attempts to post the best footage of the day. And that video, while of course only a partial view of 30 July, showed a determination and an enthusiasm to make both anger and hope heard.

The Government's efforts to limit, if not shut down, both mourning and protest yesterday were fumbling. There was, thankfully, fewer reports of violence and injuries than on previous occasions, including the cause for the memorial, the deaths of 20 June. While dramatic images emerged, such as a clash between demonstrators and police using batons in Vanak Square (see yesterday's video, Part 1), that incident apparently ended in tear gas rather than gunfire. A scattering of arrests were reported but even some of those taken were later freed, such as the filmmaker Jafar Panahi

At the same time, the security forces probably caused further difficulties for the regime with their ham-fisted efforts to keep opposition leaders away from the memorial. They were successful in turning back Mir Hossein Mousavi, but it appears that Mehdi Karroubi and the supporting crowd were defiant, not only saving Karroubi from being man-handled (as had happened on 17 July) but ensuring that he spoke to the gathering. We have footage of Karroubi's arrival at the cemetery (yesterday's video, Part 1); if any images of this show of resistance emerges, I suspect they may be a powerful symbol for the strength of the Green Wave.

Yet, on the morning after, those incidents can also be turned around to pose questions for the opposition. If one was to be crude, the more-than-symbolic question could be put, "Where is Mousavi now?" It is not just the fact that, minutes after crowds were chanting "Ya Hossein! Mir Hossein!", he was rebuffed in his attempt to pay respects; it is that he never resurfaced on the day, despite rumours that he like many of the crowd moved to the Grand Mosala.

Less crudely, dramatic protest has to be followed by less dramatic political planning and manoeuvring. And that in turn highlights that, two weeks after the 17 July moment, there is still no political front, let alone a well-developed set of proposals for what should be done with Iran's political, religious, and judicial system. We are back to the difficult, sometimes grubby, details of not only the Presidency and Iranian security forces, including the Revolutionary Guard but also of institutions like the Guardian Council and of the powers of the Supreme Leader. It is a difficult challenge beyond the spirit and success of yesterday, and seen in these terms, one which poses questions which cannot be answered at this point.

There is another twist, however. The Green Wave's persistence does not depend on those unanswered questions because of more immediate issues. Foremost among these are detention and interrogation. It is notable that the sustained pressure that has been brought by both clerical and political opposition, symbolised by the Khatami-Mousavi-Karroubi letter and the response of some Ayatollahs, has been concerned with the abuses of detainees and demands that someone take responsibility for the violation of law, humanity, and Islam.

A pragmatic move by the Government, to ease that pressure, would be to give way on the detentions, and it did so to an extent with the announced release of 140 prisoners and the promised closure of the Kahrizak facility. This, however, appears to be a concession offset by the prospect of further punishment. Tomorrow, only 48 hours after the memorial, the trials of about 20 detainees are scheduled to begin. Foreshadowed by yesterday's announcement by Mortazavi, the court proceedings will probably be marked by more strident rhetoric about foreign manipulations and even the evil direction of opposition leaders within Iran. All of this is likely to re-raise the questions of the Government's system of "crime" and punishment and, more importantly, to create new martyrs for the cause.

The second immediate issue is the diminishing but still pivotal figure of President Ahmadinejad. Yesterday, in the face of the high-profile challenge to his authority, he disappeared, going to Mashaad to meet academics and scientists. That's his second flight in two weeks; he made the same trip to Mashaad on 16 July, the day before Rafsanjani's Friday prayers.

This is a political leader without authority, yet ironically, we are only six days away from the supposed re-confirmation of his authority when Ahmadinejad is inaugurated. And that saves the Green Wave from the longer-term questions about the political system. For the opposition, which is not only "reformist" but now those "principlists" and "conservatives" whom the President has alienated, can agree that longer-term questions can be put aside for criticism of an immediate target.

Waves ebb and flow. Yesterday, after a week of confrontation within the system, the tide came dramatically in, to demonstrate that protests remains strong and defiant. Today, it goes out, to make way again for those day-to-day manoeuvres challenging the current President of Iran. And next week, it comes in once again, as 5 August brings the symbolic clash of an official inauguration and an unofficial denial of that ceremony.

Beyond that? It's not "the overthrow of the Shah". It's an Iran 30 years later --- this Wave is already in uncharted waters for the Islamic Republic, and I doubt any of us have the map to indicate where it goes.

Beyond the Wave: Why the US Still Engages with Iran

The Latest from Iran (31 July): And Now….?

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IRAN US FLAGSI suspect this extended article by Roger Cohen, formally published in this Sunday's New York Times Magazine, will cause a few media fireworks. Cohen has been criticised for a series of recent pieces, based on a visit to Iran, which have provided complexity beyond the image of an anti-Western, anti-Israeli country. This essay combines Cohen's sympathy with the Green Movement with an incisive examination of the Obama Administration's approach to the Government that is still in power. His conclusions echo our own analysis on Enduring America: the baseline for Washington's policy is that it has to deal with an Iranian regime which may or may not be developing nuclear weapons and which is definitely a key player in regional politics, including Afghanistan, Iraq, and the rest of the Middle East.

The Making of an Iran Policy

The silent protest began in Imam Khomeini Square in front of the forbidding Ministry of Telecommunications, which was busy cutting off cellphones but powerless to stop the murmured rage coursing through Tehran. Six days had passed since Iran’s disputed June 12 election, but the fury that brought three million people onto the streets the previous Monday showed no sign of abating. “Silence will win against bullets,” a woman beside me whispered. Her name was Zahra. She wore a green headband — the color adopted by the campaign of the defeated reformist candidate Mir Hussein Moussavi — and she held a banner saying, “This land is my land.” The words captured the popular conviction that not only had President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad stolen votes, but he also had made off with Iran’s dignity. Slowly the vast crowd began to move north. No chant issued from the throng, only distilled indignation. A young man asked me where I was from. When I told him New York, he shot back: “Give our regards to freedom. It’s coming right here!”

In those giddy postelectoral days, anything seemed possible, even the arrival of liberty, or at least more of it, in the 30-year-old Islamic Republic. Through the swirl of events — the huge crowds, the beatings and the sirens, the tear gas and black smoke — the core issues were simple. Iranians felt cheated. They wanted their votes to count. They knew that no genuinevictor with two-thirds of the vote need resort to brutality or fear a recount. Sometimes they asked me if the United Nations would help them; often they asked if America would. It was their way of saying, with fierce emotion, that the morality of the Iranian story, its right and wrong, was plain.

But it was precisely emotion, and notions of good and evil, that the Obama administration had spent the previous months trying to drain from the charged U.S.-Iranian relationship. Sobriety dominated the ideas of the president’s Iran team, as I’d learned before I left in conversations with senior officials at the State Department and the National Security Council. The Bush administration’s ideologically driven axis-of-evil approach to Iran had failed. Tehran had prospered by expanding its regional influence and was accelerating its nuclear program. The Obama administration believed it was time to seek normalization through a new, cooler look at a nation critical to U.S. strategic interests — from advancing Israeli-Arab peace negotiations to a successful withdrawal from Iraq.

“Who they select as leader in Iran is their prerogative, and there’s nothing we can do to control that,” Ray Takeyh, an Iranian-born adviser to Dennis Ross, the veteran Mideast negotiator who has been working on Iran for the Obama administration, told me before the election. “We’re trying to deal with Iran as an entity, a state, rather than privileging one faction or another. We want to inject a degree of rationality into this relationship, reduce it to two nations with some differences and some common interests — get beyond the incendiary rhetoric.” Takeyh’s words reminded me of Ross, who in his book “Statecraft” defined the term’s first principles as, “Have clear objectives, tailor them to fit reality.”

But now, as the crowd streaming before me demonstrated, Iran’s reality had changed. In his inaugural address, President Obama said: “To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history, but that we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.” Seldom had a fist been clenched more unequivocally, dissent silenced more harshly or deceit practiced with more brazenness than in Iran after June 12.

Still, Obama’s Iran team — Ross; the courtly under secretary of state William Burns; the dapper deputy national security adviser Tom Donilon; the studious senior N.S.C. official Puneet Talwar (the only one, other than Takeyh, who has been to Iran); the hard-charging organization man Denis McDonough, who controls strategic communication at the White House — faced a difficult choice between sticking with strategic outreach to the regime and questioning its legitimacy in the name of human rights. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, whose instincts on Iran have always been more hawkish than the president’s, “was pushing for a harder line sooner after the June 12 vote,” a Mideast expert close to her told me last month. She was supported by her friend Joe Biden, the vice president. They did not prevail. The tone was cautious; although Obama’s denunciations of the clampdown grew stronger as it worsened, the extended hand, which had proved more unsettling to Iran than all the Bush administration bluster, was not withdrawn.

When I returned from Iran, I went to see one of these senior officials to ask what it had been like making that call. Painful, was the response. Every day, in the election’s aftermath, the team met and conference-called. “It is difficult to weigh all the different considerations,” this official told me. “But given the profoundly serious consequences of an Iranian regime that acquires a nuclear-weapons capability, the judgment in the end was that it was important to follow through on the offer of direct engagement.” He noted that this offer had been “signaled clearly in the course of the campaign” by Obama, and developed since. In other words, this goes deep with the president. He’s driving Iran policy. The Iran gambit lies close to the core of his refashioned global strategy, America’s “new era of engagement.”

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Transcript: Obama Envoy Holbrooke on Afghanistan and Pakistan

HOLBROOKERichard Holbrooke, President Obama's special envoy on Afghanistan and Pakistan, returned from a trip to those countries to give a press briefing on Wednesday. There is a lot here on a changing US approach to fighting the wars in the region through a combination of military and non-military measures. As The Cable notes incisively, Holbrooke effectively announced that the Bush Administration policy of destroying Afghanistan's poppy production has been scrapped. The bigger question remains, however: can Holbrooke really overtake the perception of a military-first approach by Washington?

AMBASSADOR HOLBROOKE: Thank you. I’ll be happy to take your questions. Just identify yourself, please.

QUESTION: Dan Dombey, Financial Times. Following the funding commitments that the U.S. and its partners received for the Afghan national security forces expansion at the NATO summit, how well are you –

AMBASSADOR HOLBROOKE: What were the what commitments?

QUESTION: Funding commitments for the Afghan national –


QUESTION: I – well, you had, I think, a couple of hundred million from Germany.

AMBASSADOR HOLBROOKE: You’re talking about new commitments?

QUESTION: The commitment for – to fund the expansion of the forces. I thought Germany made –

AMBASSADOR HOLBROOKE: I didn’t go to Europe to get more commitments. We – an expansion of the armed services and police of Afghanistan is obviously necessary. That’s hardly a secret. But my job on this trip wasn’t to go around getting new commitments.

QUESTION: No, it’s just a general question, which is how sustainable is the expansion of the ANSF that is envisaged in the strategy, and where do you foresee the main part of the funding for that expansion to come from?

AMBASSADOR HOLBROOKE: It’s – okay, sorry, I misunderstood because you – I thought you were talking about prior. It’s absolutely essential that over time Afghanistan assume responsibility for its own security and combat troops draw down. Of course, economic assistance, training, advisory work will continue for quite a while. The current force levels of police and army are clearly going to have to be increased.

But we’re in the middle of an election campaign in Afghanistan, and that election campaign has been going on, basically, in one form or another, since this Administration took office. When we came into office, there was a constitutional crisis impending, a question of legitimacy, no certainty as to when the date would take place, opposition people talking about mass demonstrations. And this Administration focused first on helping the Afghans stabilize their political situation, set a date for the elections. Our military forces and those of our allies then picked up the ball and began working closely with the Afghan Government to assure the best possible election under extremely difficult circumstances.

As that progressed, we’ve started to put in place some of our programs, and we continue to support extensive training of the army and the police. But it’s apparent that the current level of the national security forces of Afghanistan are not going to be sufficient in the long run. After the election, this will be a subject we will look at in conjunction with the new government. We’ll see what the needs are, and then we’ll see how we can support them.

So forgive me if I’m not too specific, but I do wish to draw your attention to a couple of facts which I don’t think get enough public attention. First of all, Japan has not given – been given sufficient credit for their extraordinary act of paying the police salaries for the entire country during this present time phase. The exact amount my colleagues can give you, if you’re interested.

Secondly, the European gendarmerie force is sending police in to train. And the gendarmerie of the European – this is not an EU organization, the European gendarmerie. It’s a collection of about six countries that do gendarmerie work headquartered in Italy. That’s a tremendously positive development.

Third, the reorganization now taking place within ISAF is going to seek to consolidate the police training, which has been scattered in so many different places that it has lacked a certain coherence.

So in answer to your question, this is a very high priority, and once we’re past the election, it will get even higher.


QUESTION: Ambassador Holbrooke, if I may ask a question on Pakistan.

AMBASSADOR HOLBROOKE: All identifications --

QUESTION: Mark Landler with The New York Times.

AMBASSADOR HOLBROOKE: Even if I know you and wish I didn’t, but --

QUESTION: Right. Well said. On Swat – and tell me if I’m right in this – I heard that you were interested in visiting Swat –


QUESTION: -- and that the Pakistanis said that they couldn't arrange security for you.

AMBASSADOR HOLBROOKE: That’s correct. You heard because it’s in today’s New York Times.

QUESTION: Exactly. (Laughter.) Do you – does that tell you something about the state of security in Swat? And maybe just to put it more straight, what do you make of the state of security in Swat?

AMBASSADOR HOLBROOKE: I want to be very frank with you. I asked to go to Swat or Buner, knowing that I wasn’t going to be able to go to Mingora, but I wanted to establish the limits of the – of what was possible here because, as any of you who have traveled with me know, we’d like to go as far forward as we’re allowed to. That’s the way you learn.

And the military said they really would prefer we didn’t do it now. And “prefer” means no. So we didn’t. And then I was – then we picked another refugee camp, which was a good one, and then we got weathered out so we never went. My colleague, Eric Schwartz, the Assistant Secretary of State for Refugees, was able to go the next day, and I hope that – I hope you’re going to make him available to the press because Eric --

QUESTION: He’s testifying today.

AMBASSADOR HOLBROOKE: Yeah. And I think I would recommend Eric come down here and talk to you more.

So, Mark, what you said is exactly true, and I hope to visit on the next trip because I think it’s a way of finding out how they feel. Now, there are international aid workers in Buner, so it isn’t that nobody could go in, but they felt that if somebody went in high-profile, heavy security, tons of journalists, including some of my friends in this room, that would have been a problem for them. So I don’t want to become a burden on people, so it wasn’t a big issue.

QUESTION: Laura Rozen from Foreign Policy. Can you talk about the scheduling complications that led to you postponing the trip to India this last week?

AMBASSADOR HOLBROOKE: There were no complications. I have the four – three or four people in India who are my main policy interlocutors. All but one of them were going to be out of the country, so --

QUESTION: And you weren’t aware of that before you scheduled going to –

AMBASSADOR HOLBROOKE: No, we got – I think we were in the air. Ashley, when did we find out that the Indians weren’t going to be available?

STAFF: Yeah, it was basically when he was en route to Pakistan we found out.

AMBASSADOR HOLBROOKE: So, but I’m going back --

STAFF: But you’re going back.

AMBASSADOR HOLBROOKE: I’m going to go back in mid August. And within the limits of Indian independence, they – I would – they all are looking forward to my coming.

QUESTION: Raghubir Goyal from India Globe and Asia Today. First of all, do you see there is a rift between you and India, because there were some reports in India that that’s why maybe you did not visit India? And also –

AMBASSADOR HOLBROOKE: I just answered that question.


AMBASSADOR HOLBROOKE: Really. I mean, you know, if there’s a rift between me and India, it would be the first rift between me and India since I was seven years old. You know, India was the first country in the world I was ever aware of. I have a very special feeling for it. And if there’s a rift, you’ll have to ask the Indians. I didn’t see any rift. The four people I usually see, all but one of them were out of the – was out of the country. I talked to the Indians on the phone. Bob Blake was there with the Secretary of State. Bob Blake had some talks which were very helpful. There’s no issue here.

QUESTION: And second, sir, as far as your visit to – main question was, as far as your visit to Pakistan, can you give little highlights how Pakistan is doing as far as security concerns, and also if you are going to get ever Usama bin Ladin, which is the most wanted person on this earth and most famous.


AMBASSADOR HOLBROOKE: The trip to Pakistan was very valuable, as they all are. I talked to the leadership of the civilians in the military and private citizens. I was – this is a country facing a staggering number of front-page story problems at one time. The number one subject in Afghanistan among the people on this trip that I talked to was the energy crisis and the electricity. And while we were there, there were demonstrations of textile workers protesting the reductions in electricity. It’s reducing their output. All of you can see the enormous danger that poses. President Zardari, Prime Minister Gilani and I talked a lot about that.

I would draw your attention to the fact that the President of the United States asked that his senior international economic – one of his senior international economic experts, David Lipton, to go out ahead of me. And Lipton and I are friends and we coordinated closely.

The other main subjects, of course, were the internal refugees and the military offensive. And then, of course, in addition, the situation in Afghanistan. I want to underscore a point, separate from my trip. Ambassador Eikenberry and General McChrystal, the top two people in Afghanistan, have been traveling to – have been traveling to Pakistan fairly regularly – sometimes public, sometimes not – just to consult with the government, including the Pakistani army, about making sure that this time around, as the ISAF offensive picks up steam, the Pakistanis are ready for it. So they know – the Pakistanis know where the military operations are happening and they can prepare for any spillover effects. Similarly, we talked to the Pakistanis about if their military operations push people the other way into Afghanistan.

So the military-to-military discussions are helping to harmonize this most explosively dangerous area. Hard to imagine a more dangerous area on the face of the earth today than an area which contains, as you pointed out, al-Qaida, Pakistani Taliban, Afghan Taliban, two and a half million refugees. It’s just extraordinary how difficult it is.

And so we’re spending a lot of time working on that. And each trip, I think we deepen the relationships. And we also announced the disbursement of $165 million worth of American aid. I want to caution you here because it was – some of the journalists got confused about this on our trip. We didn’t announce $165 million of new aid. We announced the disbursement and release of existing aid, aid we’d already announced. It wasn’t new, but it was very important because it had been held up.

QUESTION: Usama bin Ladin, sir?


QUESTION: Usama bin Ladin?

AMBASSADOR HOLBROOKE: Usama bin Ladin – we didn’t see him on this trip.


QUESTION: Are you still interested to get him?

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)


QUESTION: Nothing.

AMBASSADOR HOLBROOKE: I don’t know what your question is. When are we going to capture or eliminate him?

QUESTION: Yes, sir. Yes, sir.

AMBASSADOR HOLBROOKE: If I knew, I wouldn't tell. But I don’t know.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) welcome back. I’d like, if you could, to expand a little bit on the first answer you gave talking about the need for more Afghan national army troops.


QUESTION: And police, exactly, security forces. And as you know, there’s been a lot of pressure on the Congress and there’s been discussions, apparently, among the top military brass in the U.S. about the need for more ANSF. And I’d like to get your take on what you think the total number should be, what the U.S. is capable of supporting, and also to comment somewhat on this talk about whether there should be more U.S. forces sent to Afghanistan as well as a sort of supplement to that.

AMBASSADOR HOLBROOKE: I can’t give you an exact figure for several reasons. One, it’s under study and review. Two, there are various numbers being thrown around. Three, the Afghan Government has to be a central part of these discussions and there are elections coming up in a few weeks and we’ve got to talk to them.

On the second part of your question, you’ll have to address that to the Pentagon.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.) I was wondering if you could talk a little bit more about the drug trade and your efforts to kind of shift to more of an alternative livelihood, because as you said while you were on your latest trip, it seems now that the Taliban is getting more money from the drug trade than it is from its outside kind of funding around the world. And do you see support among the Afghan people for this new effort, and do you think it’s sustainable?

AMBASSADOR HOLBROOKE: I’m sorry, you say that I said they’re getting more from the drug trade?

QUESTION: Well, no, we –

AMBASSADOR HOLBROOKE: I said the reverse.

QUESTION: No, they’re getting more from –

AMBASSADOR HOLBROOKE: From outside. Right. That’s – but I’ve said that many times.

One of the most interesting things I saw on the trip down in Helmand and Kandahar was the first tangible evidence that one of the most important policy shifts of the United States since January 20th is beginning to show results. As you know because we’ve announced it several times, and it finally got picked up about the fourth or fifth time we said it, ironically, when I was in Trieste, not here in Washington, we have phased – we are phasing out crop eradication. The United States and the ISAF forces are not going to go around assisting or participating in the destruction of poppy fields anymore. The United States has wasted hundreds of millions of dollars doing this. A per-hectare cost has been estimated at $44,000 a hectare to destroy the poppy seeds. You can buy real estate for that in most of the – in many places.

If the Afghans wish – I mentioned this to Governor Mangal in Helmand, and he laughed. He – and he said, “I can eliminate – I can destroy poppies for $150 a hectare.” And I said, “Governor, that’s up to you, but we’re – if you want to – but we’re not going to get in that business.” All we did was alienate poppy farmers who were poor farmers, who were growing the best cash crop they could grow in a market where they couldn’t get other things to market, and we were driving people into the hands of the Taliban.

Now, this flies in the face of a lot of conventional drug enforcement doctrine. Why did – why was it wrong? Because in other countries – Mexico, Colombia, the Golden Triangle in Thailand – that was the purpose of our policy. Here, of course, our policy is to strengthen the government and help defeat the Taliban, and we were not doing it. And the amount of hectarage we were destroying was inconsequential and the amount of money we were denying the Taliban was zero. They got everything they needed anyway.

So after consulting a lot of experts, we – and having an internal debate in the U.S. Government, because a lot of people were doctrinally addicted, if you’ll pardon the pun, to that concept – we did this. And then we started out – and we said, okay, no more crop eradication, we’ll phase that out, we will increase our efforts in interdiction, and third, we’re going to increase agriculture.

On this trip, we saw the first indications that it might work. And those indications came from the British and American forces in Helmand, where they targeted interdiction and made interdiction their goal and they went after drug dealers. And using modern technologies, they located what they called drug bazaars, marketplaces which sold drug paraphernalia, precursor chemicals, laboratory equipment, poppy seeds and there were vast amounts of opium, nice fluffy poppy, to buy and sell, and they destroyed them.

And CNN wrote a – ran a very good piece on this, which showed the poppies. I don’t know if it was run domestically, but it was shown all over the world repeatedly. And Ambassador Tony Wayne, our number-three ambassador out there, who all of you know, former ambassador to Argentina, was in the middle of this area and the poppies were blowing up and burning. And we don’t – it’s hard to figure out what the equivalent was, but there probably was, in one week, several years of useless crop eradication – in fact, counterproductive. To me, in all the trips I made out there, this was the most gratifying thing, because it’s nice to have theories and policies, but you got to see how they work on the ground.

The second thing is I – okay, so ground and crop eradication, I explained that. Interdiction seems to be working. They’ve got some other targets ahead of them which I think will be equally effective.

Agriculture; the most well-received change in American policy has been our dramatic upgrade of agriculture. I would simply note that both Senators Obama and Clinton proposed things like this last year when they were campaigning. So it was a pleasure to take a – something proposed during the campaign and see it converted into a reality on the ground. Everywhere I went, the realization was just beginning to dawn that we were going to put hundreds of millions of dollars into agriculture from the agricultural development teams in some of the provinces run by the national guards or states like Texas. I spent some time with the Texas agricultural development team in Ghazni province – and they’re doing all these terrific projects – to the more formal agricultural efforts that we have, which are a combined integrated AID-U.S. Department of Agriculture team.

Now that is just beginning to get rolling, but it was remarkable to me how every candidate we called on, every Afghan in the provinces, everyone had heard about it already. So I – forgive the long answer, but I see this all interconnected – getting rid of crop eradication, increasing interdiction, which is what really hurts the drug kingpins, the corrupt police, and the Taliban, and finally, addressing what – after all, it’s an agricultural country, 80 percent of the people in agriculture.

It was a great export country until the Soviet invasion in 1978, and it exported pomegranates and most of the world’s – over half the world’s raisins. It even exported wine, pistachios. And all that died. And the Afghans are great, great farmers, but they need help, and we’re going to do an overall effort. And Secretary of Agriculture Vilsack will go out there in October, and he will lead a group. And I would encourage some of you to consider going with him. It’s going to be a terrific trip.

Way in the back.

QUESTION: Thank you, Ambassador. Ali Imran from Associated Press of Pakistan.


QUESTION: Associated Press of Pakistan.


QUESTION: During your visit to Brussels, you said that the European countries and under – other powers should help more Pakistan to deal with the issue of IDPs and their return, rehabilitation and reconstruction of –

AMBASSADOR HOLBROOKE: You mean what I said yesterday in Brussels?

QUESTION: Yes. I mean, what –

AMBASSADOR HOLBROOKE: Did I have any reaction?

QUESTION: No. I mean, what – do you find the European powers and the other partners of international community to – committed to help Pakistan at this critical hour?

AMBASSADOR HOLBROOKE: The Europeans – there are 41 nations, most of them European, participating in the international efforts in Afghanistan. But the Europeans are quite quick to admit that they hadn’t paid enough attention to Pakistan in the past. I would argue that perhaps we didn’t either.

But in any case, I made the case, just as you cited, in closed meetings and in public. I met yesterday with the NATO Council, with the European Commission, and with the Belgian foreign minister. And in all these cases, I raised this issue. When you go to people and you say, you ought to do more, they can’t say yes in the room. They have their own processes, they have their budgets, they have their parliaments, just like we do. And I just wanted to get the ball rolling on a very public discussion. Why? Because two reasons: Pakistan is critically important to the rest of the world, and it has very serious challenges right now, starting with the energy sector and the refugees and the insurgency and the overall economy; and secondly, because what happens in Pakistan has a direct effect on Afghanistan.

QUESTION: Ambassador, you seem to be discriminating against the front row, but I’ll forgive you for that. Bob Burns from AP. A question about the so-called civilian surge in Afghanistan. I’m wondering if you’re satisfied with the pace at which that’s happening. And I ask that having heard Tony Cordesman of CSIS this morning talking about his several weeks in Afghanistan recently. In his view, it’s been insufficient and he doesn’t foresee it reaching a – sort of a critical mass for at least another year. Is the timeline stretching out? What do you –

AMBASSADOR HOLBROOKE: Is he volunteering to go out there? Because we could use someone with his talents. He’s going to do agriculture or –

QUESTION: No, he says you don’t have enough people to do those things.

AMBASSADOR HOLBROOKE: I have no idea what he’s talking about. We have a very sustained plan. This is not like taking an existing military unit out of Fort Bragg and training them and then sending them out. Even the military takes some time. Our training groups have not yet gotten there.

But I just don’t agree with him. We have a – we have a separate, dedicated personnel staff here in my office under presidential waiver authority. We have hundreds of people in the pipeline. Many people have already arrived. I saw a mission which was showing much more energy than I’d ever seen before on previous trips going back three or four years. And most importantly, you can’t have civilians go out unless there’s security. And we are actually out of billets in Kabul to put people. And we want to get people out in the field.

Am I – your initial question was, was I satisfied? Quite honestly, and speaking personally, I’m never satisfied in this job, because the pressures are so great. And you know that. We’ve traveled together. You understand what my job is. And my job is to try to make the system work faster and better.

But the way you describe this criticism – and I haven’t talked to him – I don’t think it’s – it sounds to me like it’s based on taking an issue out of perspective. You come – tell you what: come down to our offices, talk to our personnel people, get every detail you want, there’s nothing classified about it, and reach your own conclusions. We’ll get you on our side here (inaudible). (Laughter.)

Yes, sir.

QUESTION: Hi, Colin Campbell of Atlantic Television News Press TV. How is the United States working with Afghanistan’s IEC to ensure the most fair elections possible? Could you go over that?

AMBASSADOR HOLBROOKE: Well, first of all, Secretary Clinton sent Ambassador Tim Carney, who many of you know, out there to head a special election unit. Tim is a very experienced election official. This morning, he reported by closed-circuit television to the National Security Council staff and team, and I was there for that meeting. Actually, Ambassador Eikenberry was there, too. That group is our primary interface with the election commission.

There are two others commissions. There’s a complaints commission and a media commission. And we – and I met with all three.

One of the most dramatic things that I did on this trip was to go out to the IEC and go to this large – like a warehouse or an airplane hanger. And you go in and there are about 200 to 300 young Afghans in blue jeans, t-shirts, whatever, sitting behind computer terminals registering voters. And they’ve registered over a million new voters. They have a backlog of 3 million. They’re a little behind, only 20 days to go, 22 days, and they’re rushing to register at least three or four million additional voters.

I think that since the registrants from last election remain on the rolls, you had about 17 million names on the chart. But we don’t know how many of those people are still alive or are still in the country. So we will never have an exact number of how many people could have voted – in other words, one of the figures that you’ll all ask, what percentage of the eligible electorate voted, is probably not going to be attainable. But what we will know is how many people vote. And we know how many people voted last time.

Now, we’re working very closely with these three commissions. Everybody’s complaining about the elections. It happens in our country, too. People have charges of this and that. But my view is that the election – it’s an extraordinary thing to hold an election in the middle of a war. And this is the first contested election in Afghanistan history. So while I saw many – I heard complaints from every side, I wasn’t unduly upset by those.

We are working very closely with the election commission. The head of it, Dr. Lodin, and I had two different meetings, one private and one in a group. And I don’t know what else I can say about it. But it is our main focus right now.

QUESTION: Warren Strobel with McClatchy newspapers. Two questions about Swat. First, can you give us your general assessment of how well the Pakistani Government is doing – and not the clearing phase, but the holding and building, the reconstruction?

And secondly, our correspondent in the region, or in the country, reported this morning that Pakistani authorities have found that the Taliban abducted about a hundred teenage boys and sent them to a – some sort of indoctrination camp to train them to be suicide bombers with a terrorism curriculum. I was just wondering if you knew anything further. I had heard that while you were there.

AMBASSADOR HOLBROOKE: On the first question, I really can’t answer your question, because I wasn’t able to get there. And of course, you’re asking the key question. We don’t know exactly to what extent the Pakistani army dispersed or destroyed the enemy. And the test of this operation is, of course, when the refugees return, can they go home? Are they safe? And we’re just going to have to wait and see.

But I do want to stress something here. This is the first – the Pakistanis have moved a very large number of troops from their eastern border to their western border, and those – that’s a historically and significant redeployment.

Secondly, on your second question, I haven’t – I’m not aware of the details of the story, but I will check it. We’ve heard these stories many times in the past, and some – you remember a while ago the kids escaped in a similar situation. And so I’d like to know more about it and I’ll look at the story.

Yes, sir.

QUESTION: To what extent – (inaudible) from Press Trust of India. To what extent do you think the resolution of Kashmir dispute between India and Pakistan will help you in achieving your three goals – dismantle, disrupt, and defeat al-Qaida and Taliban in the --

AMBASSADOR HOLBROOKE: That issue is outside my area of ability to discuss.

QUESTION: And secondly, sir, in the last two weeks, Pakistani leaders have said – have given public statement about India’s involvement in Baluchistan. Have Pakistani leaders brought this to your notice? Have they given you any credible evidence of India’s involvement in Baluchistan?


QUESTION: Have they given you any credible evidence of India’s involvement in Baluchistan?

AMBASSADOR HOLBROOKE: I would be misleading if I said it didn’t come up, but the narrow answer to your question is no.


QUESTION: (Inaudible) for the broad region of Pakistan and Afghanistan. Pakistani forces have been fighting in Swat and the tribal area, but they haven’t yet caught any militant leader; for example, Baitullah Mehsud or Maulana Fazlullah. Have you talked with Pakistani leaders that they are yet to get any one of those militant leaders?

AMBASSADOR HOLBROOKE: That’s a constant subject, and – but they did arrest Sufi Mohammad. Now, some people say he’s an old guy and it’s meaningless. I don’t agree with that. He’s the father-in-law of Fazlullah. He’s one of the leading lights. He’s a guy who negotiated that truce which turned out to be a surrender disguised as a truce, which led to the crisis.

But the Pakistani army is, I think, anxious to bring these people to justice. And we would – we hope that will happen.

QUESTION: You mentioned that you feel under a lot of pressure all the time in this job. Are you feeling that with British support seems to be dwindling for their troops to stay in Afghanistan and also in the buildup to midterms in the U.S., it would appear that U.S. support in this – the body bags – more body bags start coming in and you lose more of your own forces, are you feeling that your own time clock is ticking on this and that you have a limited amount of time in which to get what you need done before the public sort of turns against you?

AMBASSADOR HOLBROOKE: I don’t want to comment on the British side of it, particularly with David Miliband in the building right now. And I wasn’t able to hear his press conference with Secretary Clinton.

And on the timeframe issue, I think we want to show a visible, tangible progress. But we don’t have a timetable, but we want to show progress to the world and the American public by next year. But don’t – people should not interpret that, as some have, as some kind of deadline or arbitrary timetable.

MR. CROWLEY: We can take two more questions.

QUESTION: Just – Sebastian Walker from Al Jazeera. Just quickly again on the counternarcotics issue, why do you think the U.S. pursued a policy that you’ve described as totally ineffectual for so long? And with this new strategy, how does that actually play out on the ground? So for example, with the U.S. Marines combing Helmand province, if they come across a field being cultivated for opium poppy production, what do they do? Do they just leave it?

And then on another issue, you’ve been talking about this flow of money from sympathizers to the Taliban from Gulf countries. Would you describe that as coming from all Gulf countries? Could you be more specific about where you think this money is actually coming from?

AMBASSADOR HOLBROOKE: On the first part of your three-part question, the – you’ll have to ask the people that did this, none of whom are in this room right now. And you’ll have to ask the people who thought this was the right way to spend American taxpayer dollars. They got nothing for it.

On the second part of your question, I’m not going to know the tactical operational orders to the troops, but their mission is not to support or assist crop eradication. And General McChrystal and I are absolutely – and General Petraeus are absolutely united on that.

On the third part of your question, I do want to clarify something. I am not – repeat, not accusing the governments of the region. This comes up all the time because in the past – last year, the year before that – there were accusations made by government officials of the previous administration. I’m not doing that. But there’s very strong evidence that money flows from that area unregulated, very hard to regulate, and we care a lot about that.

And that’s why I visited every member of the GCC except one already, and plan to go back as often as possible. That’s why one of the members of our nine-agency interagency staff is from the Treasury Department, and why we have set up a task force under Treasury’s leadership coordinated by us on this important issue, which involves so many elements of the U.S. Government that it’s extraordinary. We know how tough this is, but if money flowing from that area contributes to the use of force which results in casualties to our forces and those of our allies, we owe it to the troops to do some – to try to do something about it.

QUESTION: So you’d include all – sorry, you’d include all Gulf countries within that?

AMBASSADOR HOLBROOKE: No, I didn’t say that. I’m not going to specify the countries because it’s just not fair to them. But I did want to specify that I’m not holding the governments responsible.

Last question.

QUESTION: Depending on who wins the election in Pak – in Afghanistan, will the U.S. policy towards the country – will it be redefined or not?

AMBASSADOR HOLBROOKE: Depending on who wins, will the U.S. policy be what?

QUESTION: Will be redefined?

AMBASSADOR HOLBROOKE: I don’t want to speculate about what happens after the election. I just want to be clear on what we hope to see in the election, which is an election whose outcome is accepted as legitimate by the Afghan people and the world, which reflects the desires of those who vote.

Not everyone’s going to vote. There’ll be areas where the polling places will be – will not be able to open because of security. Everybody understands that. A perfect election in this situation is not possible. There have been occasional problems in our elections, you might notice, through – I think it was only a few weeks ago we finally found out who the senator from Minnesota was, right, P.J.?

MR. CROWLEY: That’s right. (Laughter.)

AMBASSADOR HOLBROOKE: And – but I did want to clarify that let’s focus on the election and its immediate aftermath, and then we’ll move on. But we – our commitment to Afghanistan, and I need to underscore this – the President has said repeatedly our commitment to Afghanistan stands not only because it’s in our own national interest to do so, but because it’s important to the entire region that stretches from the Mediterranean all the way east through the subcontinent.

Now I – there was – I was going to – actually going to call on you, so I’ll give you the last question.

QUESTION: Very nice, thank you. Mina al-Oraibi, Sharq al-Awsat newspaper. Ambassador, I wanted to raise the issue of detainees and the process of, you know, detainees that are in Bagram at the moment, how they’re being actually, you know, dealt with, the judicial process, transparency, and so forth. With General Stone there, how much progress are you seeing on the detainee issue? And how important is it to deal with the issues of the detainees?

AMBASSADOR HOLBROOKE: General Stone performed a great service to all of us with his study. We now have to review its recommendations and move towards implementation of whatever parts we feel are appropriate.

Secondly, the Legal Adviser to the Secretary of State Harold Koh, who I’m sure many of you know because he was formerly the Assistant Secretary for Human Rights in the Clinton Administration, came with us to Afghanistan, stayed on, and went to Bagram.

So I would prefer, in the fairness to that process – I have not been able to connect with him yet. I’d prefer to just direct your questions through P.J. to Harold when he gets back on the detainee issue. It’s a very important issue, and we’re looking at it very carefully.

Thank you very much.