Hundreds of thousands of opposition protesters openly challenged the authority of Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, today by mourning the death of a dissident cleric who had questioned Khamenei’s fitness to rule.
…the event turned into the opposition Green Movement’s biggest show of strength in months. The sheer numbers – including many wearing the opposition’s signature colour of green – seemed to confirm the Islamic regime’s fears that Montazeri’s death could provide a fresh spark for the simmering discontent over President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s hotly disputed re-election last June.
There are reports of clashes with pro-government forces, of course. The Obama Administration issued a statement of condolences, the subtext of which is support for the Green Movement, though Wall Street Journal reporter Jay Solomon suggests (albeit with somewhat vague sourcing) that some in the opposition would like a little more support from Washington:
Mr. Montazeri in November gave an address from his home in the holy city of Qom and publicly condemned the hostage-taking of U.S. diplomats in Tehran after the Shah’s fall. Members of the opposition movement said that Mr. Montazeri’s comments were designed as a signal to Mr. Obama and the U.S. that the Green Movement sought better ties with Washington. A number of opposition leaders subsequently voiced frustration that the White House didn’t more publicly respond to Mr. Montazeri’s comments.
On Sunday, the White House praised the once fierce U.S. critic for his efforts to promote democracy and human rights in his country. “Our thoughts and prayers are with his family and those who seek to exercise the universal rights and freedoms that he so consistently advocated,” National Security Council spokesman Michael Hammer said.
Many Iran watchers, however, believe the Obama administration will ultimately have to more closely align itself with the Iranian opposition movement. Few expect Tehran’s theocrats to respond in any meaningful way to Mr. Obama’s diplomatic overtures. And they also believe Iran’s opposition movement will strengthen as Iran’s flagging economy fuels domestic opposition to Mr. Ahmadinejad.
Still, U.S. officials indicated Sunday that the Obama administration will remain very much focused on international efforts to contain Tehran’s nuclear program.
If the Obama administration is soft-pedaling its support for the Green Movement because they think the opposition will be more effective if it isn’t seen as too close to Washington, that’s defensible (though if it’s true that opposition leaders want more support from Washington, they should get it). But if the administration is keeping the Green Movement at arms length in pursuit of arms negotiations with the ruling regime, that’s, well, not so defensible.