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August 18th, 2009
10:30 AM ET

Expert: Iran is in a pre-revolutionary state

Three Americans hikers – Shane Bauer, 27; Sarah Shourd, 31; and Josh Fattal, 27 – were picked up by Iranian authorities when they strayed across the border while hiking in the mountains of Iraqi Kurdistan last month. They were arrested on allegations of entering Iran illegally from northern Iraq. Iran is now saying that they are spies.

[cnn-photo-caption image= caption="Former CIA officer Robert Baer says Iran is potentially in a 'pre-revolutionary state.'"]

Robert Baer is a former CIA field officer assigned to the Middle East and the author of “The Devil We Know: Dealing with the New Iranian Superpower.” He spoke to Kiran Chetry on CNN’s “American Morning” Tuesday.

Kiran Chetry: So we don’t know much about the condition of the three Americans detained in Iran. We know that they've been held there for about two weeks now. And we've heard very little about what's happened to them. They're up against courts being run by hardliners. They’re being accused of being spies. How dangerous is this situation for them?

Robert Baer: It's particularly dangerous because Iran, as we know, is going through a volatile situation. There's been a virtual military takeover. The regime is insecure. Clerics in Qom, the holy city, have attacked the regime. And I think we're going to - they're going to play hardball with these three guys. I mean, they're not spies. And so this could be drawn out for a very, very long time.

Chetry: We have people, including our secretary of state, saying they're calling on the Iranian government to live up to their obligations under the Vienna Convention, allow at least some consular access to these three. How is it affecting U.S.-Iranian relations, the fact right now there's this high profile detainment of three people who claim they were just hiking in Iraq?

Baer: Well, the problem is we don't have any true connections to the government in Tehran, to Ahmadinejad. We have to go through the Swiss embassy, which makes things difficult. There's no such a thing as what we call a back channel. A French hostage was just released thanks to a back channel from Paris. But we don't have one of those. And this entire conservative movement in Iran is very anti-American and it's unlikely that they're going to want to be seen negotiating with the United States at this time.

Chetry: You mentioned the French situation. There's a 24-year-old woman there charged with spying and she was released from a prison. And again, you say that the difficulty and the challenge for us is that we don't have any back channel. What about what we saw play out with North Korea and former President Bill Clinton? Is there any hope for something along those lines that doesn't necessarily include our government's involvement or approval?

Baer: You know, I could see Bill Clinton, somebody like that flying to Tehran; an unofficial channel. Iran doesn't want to go to war with the United States now. And somebody, an intermediary like that, high profile, they might respond to. Again, though, the situation in Tehran is so volatile that it's unpredictable, even for the government in Iran, what's going to happen next because I'm not sure that Ahmadinejad and Khamenei are going to make it for very long. We're seeing a true revolt in the ranks of the clerics and the establishment. And so it's a little bit different than North Korea where you have one leader and one man in charge.

Chetry: You talk about the questions there and the volatility. If they don't last long as you've said, who would step in and replace them? What would we see take shape in Iran?

Baer: What I'd like to see take shape is the ayatollahs themselves come out and declare the government illegitimate, forcing Khamenei, the supreme leader, to step down and along with him the president. So you could see a revolt within the regime and that's the intention of the opposition of Moussavi and the other ones who started these demonstrations. This is not a revolution from the outside, but from the inside. And I think that wouldn't be a bad thing.

Chetry: Tell us what's going on now. There are these mass trials for the opposition supporters. All of us saw that video and witnessed some of those demonstrations take place, but now they're doing these mass trials. And there's, you know, this post-election protest that went on there. Now we're seeing the fall-out from that. Is there enough support for people who are now facing, you know, terrible circumstances in Iran because they did speak out post-election?

Baer: Well, they're arresting the sons and daughters of high officials. There is fury in that country against Ahmadinejad. He's clearly overstepped his bounds by sending this militia out, these vigilantes called the Basij, who work for the Revolutionary Guard Corps in this military takeover. So you're seeing a reaction in that country, which I haven't seen since 1981.

Chetry: But is that also helping at the same time put down future protests and tamp down the opposition?

Baer: I don't think it's going to ever be tamped down. I think this is going to completely flare up every couple of months and it could build. People are on the roofs screaming that Khamenei is a dictator and that he’s an illegitimate leader. This is unheard of a couple of years ago, completely unheard of. We're seeing potentially Iran is in a pre-revolutionary state.

Filed under: Iran
soundoff (3 Responses)
  1. Jeff Seders

    Hiking in Iraq?? And I believe I saw that these people were college educated. Is this some sort of commentary on American education? What were they doing? Looking for land mines with their feet? Ask to have them returned and leave it at that. And if they are returned, we should tattoo them with 'stupid' on their forehead

    August 19, 2009 at 3:51 pm |
  2. Scott

    There is a major difference between a few backpackers accidentally crossing a loosely defined border and millions of people sneaking into a country to stay.

    August 19, 2009 at 2:11 pm |
  3. ronvan

    I really do not want to seem as cold hearted, but I am fed up with all this hyprocacy. We are screaming bloody murder about illegal aliens in the U.S., but when some "idiots" mistakenly cross a countries borders, we scream that it is just a mistake and let them go! Common sense, for me, is that if you see a deadly snake in front of you then get away. Yet we have these "people" wandering around countries, that are not even close to being friends of americans, and being charged with illegal entry and of course being spies. You talk about back channels to get them released? What goes on behind the closed doors and what agreements are made that do not become public?

    August 18, 2009 at 3:47 pm |