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U.S. and Iranian Relations Increasingly Strained


President Bush traded stern messages over the weekend with Iranian officials. The subject was the future of Iran's nuclear program. In an interview on Israeli television, President Bush alluded to the option of using military force if Iran does not halt its uranium enrichment. He said, `You know, we've used force in the recent past to secure our country.' We're going to talk now with Hadi Semati, a professor of political science at Tehran University and currently a visiting scholar at the Woodrow Wilson National Center.

Good morning.

Professor HADI SEMATI (Tehran University): Good morning.

INSKEEP: The president's statement made headlines over the weekend, mentioning military force in an interview about Iran. Was this a change in policy for the administration?

Prof. SEMATI: Oh, I suspect not really. The military option and the tough rhetoric has been around against Iran for the last few years, and I think it's just a reflection of contradictory statements coming out of Washington here, and I suppose the Iranians have gotten used to that one as well. So I think it's not really a change of policy. I see, you know, no policy essentially on Iran.

INSKEEP: When you say contradictory statements, what's contradictory about them?

Prof. SEMATI: I think that as far as the Iranian perception is concerned, you know, the tough language, and then somewhat a few weeks ago President Bush made statements that were somewhat more confronting if you will, and so administration officials keep talking about military option as one option that is still on the table, but nonetheless, they have been talking about the pull-in negotiations in sort of a diplomatic way and diplomatic means. So I think a reflection of this orientation within that administration is that where the top language is there and then sometimes the more smooth and diplomatic postures for the purpose of resolving the conflict.

INSKEEP: Let's go over to the other side now. Iran has been making some tough statements and also the new president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, made, well, some tough-looking appointments to his Cabinet, didn't he?

Prof. SEMATI: Oh, he did, yeah. This is a Cabinet that is fairly conservative in political outlook, and most of the folks are essentially new faces, but there are two different sets of people--few that are basically and dominantly coming from military security establishments, and the rest are coming essentially from mid-ranking and fairly unknown political functionaries, not significantly political, I would argue. So it is definitely a very tough-minded and conservative-looking Cabinet that he has at this point.

INSKEEP: Which signals his orientation, his policies?

Prof. SEMATI: Definitely. I think it is a reflection of himself, of somebody who is a conservative but basically genuinely after a very tough message of a populist message connected to the people downtrodden and sort of man of the people. But at the same time, the conservative outlook and...

INSKEEP: Mr. Semati, thanks very much.

Prof. SEMATI: My pleasure.

INSKEEP: Hadi Semati, a professor of political science at Tehran University. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.