Reluctant concessions

RELUCTANT CONCESSIONS…. If there were any doubts that the unrest in Iran has shaken the nation’s powerful regime, consider the fact that the ruling class keeps taking steps to at least give the appearance of concern.

On Saturday, when the results were made “official,” Iran’s regime seemed to expect a swift end to questions. This is not, after all, a democracy. We’re not talking about a political system shaped by the consent of the electorate. With that in mind, I’ve half-expected to see Khamenei go on state media and ask, “What is it about ‘divine assessment’ that you don’t understand?”

But we’ve actually seen the opposite. While the gestures may or may not be hollow, they’re at least being made. First, Khamenei met personally with Moussavi. Second, an investigation was ordered into the election process. And we’re learning this morning about the possibility of a partial recount, covering ballots cast in specific precincts where there were suspected irregularities.

Less than 24 hours after the largest demonstrations here since the 1979 revolution and the reported deaths of seven protesters, Iran’s Guardian Council said Tuesday it was prepared to order a recount of disputed ballot boxes in Friday’s deeply divisive elections, according to state television.

The announcement seemed to represent a further reluctant concession from the authorities following Monday’s decision by the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, to a formal review of the electoral process, which the opposition says was rigged.

The problem, of course, is that while these “concessions” are intended to placate protestors, the regime still lacks credibility. Those who feel like their government just stole a presidential election are still not inclined to trust that same government to conduct legitimate follow-up work.

Indeed, the notion of a partial recount didn’t exactly impress Moussavi or his supporters, who continue to insist fresh elections are the only fair resolution to the matter. An official close to the opposition leader’s camp told CNN that a recount would only provide another opportunity for the government to manipulate the results.

Closer to home, President Obama commented late yesterday on the developments in Iran. As we’ve talked about, it’s a delicate matter. Alex Koppelman explained, “Obama had to be seen as encouraging democracy and change, but not too much, lest his remarks be used as propaganda to excite pro-Ahmadinejad forces or turn Iranians off from the opposition. He had to condemn the violence and support the protesters’ right to assemble, but not to a degree where the U.S. could be seen as interfering with Iran’s internal affairs, or threatening interference. And he surely wanted to stick to his stated policy goals regarding negotiations with Iran, but couldn’t seem soft at a time of upheaval and repression.”

With that in mind, Obama offered a long, off-the-cuff response to reporters late yesterday afternoon, spoken slowly and carefully. It was an effort to rhetorically thread a needle, but I think he pulled it off quite effectively.