By Afsane Bassir Pour

PARIS, 25 Apr. (IPS) As President George W. Bush has also warned the Islamic republic to stop meddling in Iraqi affairs, an influential French daily says Iranian officials are worried by the "obvious pro-Americanism sentiments" of " the Iranian people".

Iranian officials are worried. Worried of the American presence next to their doors, on the East as well as to the West, worried of the invasion of Iraq "with so little popular resistance", worried of the fast fall of the Baghdad regime, worried of the sidelining of the UN, worried of the total disillusion of the Iranian people that, since the beginning of the Iraqi crisis, has resulted in a fierce pro-Americanism of the population... but, especially, worried of the vox populi, that asks for "a change of the regime with the help of the American marines", the daily "Le Monde" wrote.

This demand is taken enough seriously in the political circles so that the resumption of the relations with America –a 24 years-old taboo – had moved forward on the political agenda in Tehran. These relations had been broken on the eve of the establishment of the Islamic Republic and the hostage taking of 55 American diplomats in 1979.

It was Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, the Iranian ex-president and key man of the regime, who broke the taboo. In a long interview to an Iranian weekly, published on Saturday 21 April, Mr. Rafsanjani proposed the organisation of a referendum about the resumption of the relations with America. According to the "Rahbord" (Strategy) weekly, Mr. Rafsanjani suggested that "the crisis" between Iran and America could be solved by "a referendum in order to know what the Iranian society think about the issue, on conditions, he added, that the Majles (Parliament) and the supreme Guide, approves, a process which is routine.

The reactions didn't linger. The following day, the conservative daily "Keyhan" accused the ex-president of having crossed "the red line." A line that had sent to prison the directors of a polling institute that have shown that the Iranians are massively in favour of resumption of relations with the United States.

Rejecting as "unrealistic" the idea of a referendum on the relations with America, the reformers propose that the question be instead "immediately" examined by the leaders of the regime". For Behzad Nabavi, one of the "credible voices" of the reformers, the relations with Washington has become a "national security issue".

In a rare interview, Mr. Nabavi, a close adviser to President Khatami, told "Le Monde" that the American strategy for the region "doesn't stop to the doors of Baghdad". According to Mr. Nabavi, it exists in Washington, "an Iran project" that is in the process of being implemented", a project that is "not necessarily a military one." In his office situated at the old Marble Palace, in the south of Tehran, that also includes the Majles, of which he assures the vice-presidency, Mr. Nabavi speaks of his concern facing the Americans.

"Evidently, I am afraid!" he exclaims. "How would I not be afraid of an America armed to the teeth and who demonstrated in Iraq its total disdain of respect for the sovereignty of the States? Yes, I am afraid. The Americans are apparently able do whatever they like; no matter the United Nations or even the Western public opinion". "The only and somewhat acceptable argument to the eyes of the western intellectuals justifying a hostile action against a country is the instauration of democracy", Mr. Nabavi said. It is for it, according to him, "that the best defense of Iran against the Americans would be to reinforce its democracy in order to deprive them of their arguments".

Interrogated on the voices calling for "the American interference", Mr. Nabavi declares: "It is obvious that it is the result of our mistake. The fact that people prefer a foreign invasion to living in the Islamic Republic is only the sign of our failure. We have not been able to fulfill the people's democratic aspirations and it is normal that they are disappointed". If one admits that the Iraqis are delighted with Saddam Hoseyn's end, one must also think about the possibility that maybe, the Iranians would celebrate at the end of the Islamic Republic as well".

If the reformers have been weakened a lot by the decision of the Bush Administration to put Iran on the list of "Evil Axis" countries, many think that the "fear of America" can be a "window of opportunity facing the regime’s hard liners that prevents the democratic process". "The hard lines are afraid", said a member of the reformer’s camp. "They are ready to make some concessions; they know that we have a lot more credibility than they have", he added.

But for an Iranian architect who asks for anonymity, "there isn’t any difference between reformers and the conservatives anymore". Exacerbated by the "regime’s deep corruption", he wants its end. "It is simple. We don't want the Islamic Republic anymore", he says. "It took us a quarter of century to realise that the revolution has ended in failure". Like many other Iranians, he also calls for "the American help for change the regime". The argument meets a large echo. "The Afghans and the Iraqis have been freed from dictatorships, why not us?" said a filmmaker. Where it happens to the street man to talk about the arrival of the Marines, the intellectuals don't foresee a military interference, but "a political interference" instead.

Same sense of "fed up" among the students. The student’s movement withdrew from reformer’s organisations. One of its members, speaking under the cover of anonymity, warns the Americans "not shaking the hand of the régime". The regime doesn't want to speak of the resumption of relations because it is afraid of the Americans. "Anti-Americanism is the business of the régime", add this student.

The Chairman of the Majles’ Foreign Affairs Committee, Mohsen Mirdamadi, doesn't believe in the American military threats. "A democratic process has been engaged in Iran", he says. "A process, sustained maybe more by the world public opinion that by the opinion in Iran, but that will prevent any American military interference in our country and this will be our best defense against America".

But, on the other hand, what worries him is the "obvious disappointment" of the Iranians facing the reformers. The non-participation of the Iranians at the February elections -- in Tehran, only 12% of the voters voted - has been lived by many, in Tehran, as" the end of the grace period of the reformers". ENDS IRANIANS PRO-AMERICANISM 25403

Editor’s note: Le Monde published this article on its 25 April issue.

Editing and highlights are by IPS