CIA: Iran's student uprising no match for the ayatollahs

Tuesday, February 18, 2003

The U.S. intelligence community does not expect the end of the Islamic regime in Iran despite a rising level of student unrest.

"For now, our bottom line analysis is that the Iranian regime is secure, but increasingly fragile," CIA director George Tenet told the Senate Select Intelligence Committee on Feb. 11. "The reluctance of reformist leaders to take their demands for change to the street, coupled with the willingness of conservatives to repress dissent, keeps the population disengaged and maintains stability."

Iran is the only Middle East nation in which spontaneous pro-U.S. demonstrations erupted following the September 11 attacks.

Officials cited the poor attendance at reformist rallies organized last year. They said student protests drew only 5,000 people out of a student population of more than one million, Middle East Newsline reported.

Officials said the intelligence community does not believe that the rising level of unrest and protests threatens the regime. They said Iran's military and security forces remain loyal to the ruling Islamic clergy and have intimidated students and others from taking engaging in protests.

It was the second time in as many years that the intelligence community dismissed the prospect of a regime change in Teheran. Officials said the Islamic leadership has not been significantly hurt by the fall of Taliban regime in neighboring Afghanistan and the prospect of war against Iraq.

Officials said the U.S. intelligence community is monitoring the efforts by the reformist-dominated parliament to advance legislation that would increase the powers of the president. The legislation submitted to parliament would also reform the electoral process and reduce the authority of the ruling clergy to screen candidates.

But Tenet said the CIA does not detect any hesitancy by the regime to block reformist efforts and imprison dissidents. He said the reformist movement also appears divided.

"We are currently unable to identify a leader, organization, or issue capable of uniting the widespread desire for change into a coherent political movement that could challenge the regime," Tenet said. "In addition, we see little indication of a loss of nerve among the opponents of reform, who have publicly argued in favor of using deadly force if necessary to crush the popular demand for greater freedom."

Tenet warned that even a regime change would not result in significant changes in Iran's strategic agenda. He said any new government or secular regime would pursue Iran's nuclear weapons program.

"No Iranian government, regardless of its ideological leanings, is likely to willingly abandon WMD programs that are seen as guaranteeing Iran's security," he said.

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