|08PARIS468||2008-03-14 08:57:00||CONFIDENTIAL||Embassy Paris|
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C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 PARIS 000468
1. (C) We passed reftel message to French MFA Iran desk
officer Arnaud Pescheux, along with NEA/IR's draft press
statement, on March 12. In his response on March 13,
Pescheux noted the following:
--France shares fully our concern about the selection of
candidates. French estimates of the numbers involved are
2692 candidates out of 7168 were disqualified.
--Further to Pescheux's February 27 meeting with NEA/IR desk
officer Carolyn Coberly (see below), France believes the
Iranians would best receive criticism of their elections if
it commented more on the restriction of candidates than on
the overall result. Pescheux believes the draft statement
separately passed by unclassified e-mail conforms with that
spirit, although he asked whether a reference to
"international monitoring" might stir up "Iranian patriotism."
--Although France anticipates irregularities in the vote
itself, it would prefer to cite such irregularities only if
and when there is tangible evidence supporting the assertion
that such activity has occurred. We reminded Pescheux that
that part of the guidance was only intended to be used if it
was believed such irregularities had taken place.
--Pescheux also referred to the brevity of the electoral
campaign, the choice of dates in conjunction with important
holidays, and the prohibition on publishing and distributing
photos and electoral posters as additional elements we might
--The European Union is reflecting on the timing and wording
of its own statement. Pescheux initially thought that the EU
would prefer to wait until the second round so as not to
"insult" the voters by reacting before the final results were
in, but he later indicated that sentiment was rapidly growing
in favor of a statement after the first round.
2. (C) For the record, we note that Pescheux met on
February 27 with visiting NEA/IR desk officer Carolyn Coberly
for a general exchange of views on the upcoming elections and
public diplomacy efforts vis-a-vis Iran. He indicated then
that France would likely have to criticize the parliamentary
elections but would seek to do so on a "factual, careful
basis." This would likely follow the second round of voting
and not the first. Coberly responded that it was unlikely
the USG would wait that long, since the process of organizing
the elections has been marred by so many irregularities. She
cited in particular the Guardian Council's exclusion of so
many candidates and the absence of international observers to
evaluate the vote.
3. (C) Pescheux agreed with Coberly's point that the net
result was that Iranians would not be able to choose their
elected representatives in a free and fair way. He suggested
French criticisms of the elections would focus on (1) the
disqualification of so many candidates (at least 2000 out of
7000, half of whom were considered "reformists") on the basis
of "questionable criteria" and (2) the brevity of the
campaign. Sandwiched between major holidays, Pescheux said
that six days was not long enough for a "real campaign." He
hoped that a focus on the factual aspects of the polls'
failings would make it harder for the Iranian government to
reject the criticism. The cause and effect link between the
limitation on candidacies and the expected overwhelming
election of radical or hardline candidates should be clear to
everyone and undermine the credibility of these elections.
4. (C) Coberly noted that the USG is seeking to emphasize
the flawed nature of the process over the results themselves.
She explained that this was in part intended to dispel the
impression that the USG supported the reformists as a group.
Pescheux again mostly agreed with Coberly's central argument.
The French embassy in Tehran believes that the regime
actually has little need to manipulate the results of the
election because it already manipulates the process, and this
PARIS 00000468 002 OF 002
will largely determine the outcome. When Coberly asked about
anticipated voter turnout, Pescheux stated that low voter
turnout, i.e., less than 50 percent, helped the hardliners.
This, in his opinion, helped explain the short campaign
period since it would restrict reformist efforts to mobilize
5. (C) At several points in the conversation, Pescheux
referred to the challenge France would face getting the EU to
agree to a common statement on the elections. He cited the
failure in 2006 to draft a statement, in conjunction with
Germany and the UK, on the Assembly of Experts election that
was acceptable to the full membership. Although Pescheux
imagined that the results of Iran's parliamentary elections
will be plainly evident and flawed, it would likely fall to
France, the UK, and Germany again to take the lead in
drafting a common statement.
6. (C) Looking beyond the elections, Pescheux agreed with
Coberly that they would likely have little impact on the
nuclear issue, since hardliners were using that issue to
consolidate their grip on power. Pescheux argued that
reformists, who are in any case difficult to categorize, are
extremely restricted in terms of the subjects about which
they can express a sharply divergent opinion. The general
public support of the regime's nuclear policy has made it a
"bipartisan" issue. Despite the clear negative effects it is
having on the economy, no one questions Iran's policy of
pursuing its nuclear program. Even if, as Pescheux expected,
there was a weakening of the hardliners' position to the
benefit of the moderates and reformers, it would have little
overall effect since the Majlis has no significant power with
respect to foreign affairs. Coberly agreed, although the
parliamentary elections would give some clue as to the state
of the different factions that will vie for power during the
2009 presidential election.
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