December 11, 2007


Ahmadinejad slammed for 'letter-writing' foreign policy (Stuart Williams, Dec 11, 2007, AFP)

A leading Iranian moderate launched a withering attack on the foreign policy of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, saying his strategy consisted of "letter-writing and slogans," media reported on Tuesday.

Hassan Rowhani, a former top nuclear negotiator who now heads an official think tank, ridiculed government claims that Iran was increasing its power and warned that its international situation was unfavourable.

Iran's ex-president attacks Ahmadinejad in student speech (AFP, 12/11/07)
Iran's reformist ex-president Mohammad Khatami on Tuesday accused his successor Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of increasing poverty, in a keenly-awaited speech to hundreds of students at Tehran University. [...]

"It is not right to reduce justice to economic justice," said Khatami, who served as president from 1997 to 2005.

"Such a justice spreads poverty and empties the purses of the people who should be used to make the country more powerful and more rich," he said, according to the student ISNA news agency.

His chances of re-election are roughly the same as Larry Craig's. The recent NIE, which reveals him to be all bluster and no bomb, is likely the last straw.

Meet 'The Decider' of Tehran. It's Not the Hothead You Expect. (Vali Nasr, December 9, 2007, Washington Post)

[T]he two men's agendas differ. Ahmadinejad, for example, aspires to be more than a mere administrator. Khamenei, however, already holds all the power he wants and merely needs to keep it away from ambitious presidents, whether hard-line or reformist. Moreover, Ahmadinejad's brand of rabble-rousing may be a useful strategy for a newcomer trying to elbow his way toward greater influence within the tangles of the Iranian political system, but it has deepened Iran's isolation abroad in ways Khamenei resents. For instance, he bristled during Ahmadinejad's December 2005 visit to Mecca, when the president embarrassed his welcoming host, Saudi King Abdullah, with a Holocaust-denying, anti-Israel harangue. Closer to home, when Ahmadinejad recently had the country's former top nuclear negotiator, Hossein Mousavian, arrested on espionage charges, an irked Khamenei made sure that the judiciary dismissed the charges.

So Khamenei is keeping his options open. He has helped boost Ahmadinejad's rivals in the 2005 race, Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani and Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf, by giving the former's Expediency Council (a key clerical panel) more powers and by backing the latter's bid to become Tehran's mayor. Both men remain serious contenders for power and take every opportunity to snipe at Ahmadinejad. So do a growing number of Iran's elite, who abhor Ahmadinejad's mismanagement of the economy and fear that his bluster has increased the chances of war with the United States. The president's foes hope to drub him in the parliamentary elections coming up in March.

Meanwhile, the decider is getting old. As Khamenei pushes 70, rumors abound that his health is deteriorating. One of the usually dull elections to the Council of Experts, the mysterious body that will choose his successor, recently turned into a closely watched race. (Moderates won.) Still, experts can only guess at who will follow Khamenei -- and about whether Iran's next supreme leader will reign supreme.

For now, Khamenei sees enemies all around: dissidents at home eager to reform the Islamic Republic out of existence, Sunni Arab states galvanized by the rise of Iranian influence, a Bush administration still obsessed with regime change despite last week's National Intelligence Estimate painting Tehran as toothless. Khamenei's greatest fear has always been that his enemies at home and abroad would join forces. (Little wonder, then, that he rejected talking to the United States when it looked as though the Clinton administration wanted to engage only Khatami and the reformists whom the supreme leader so fears.) Khamenei has done a nasty, effective job of sidelining the reformists, but he still faces the challenge of the United States.

In the past, Khamenei has not been averse to talking to Washington. He gave tacit support to an ill-fated memo offering direct U.S.-Iranian talks in 2003, and a year later, he publicly endorsed discussions over Iraq. But times changed after Iran dug in its heels over the nuclear issue and found itself looking down the barrels of U.S. guns. The threat of war has abated after this dramatic week, but for the man who rules Iran, two overriding concerns linger: ensuring that his regime survives and ensuring that he remains at the head of it. As the National Intelligence Estimate itself put it, "Tehran's decisions are guided by a cost-benefit approach rather than a rush to a weapon irrespective of the political, economic, and military costs." But Tehran's decisions are also guided by one man, and anyone serious about understanding the sources of Iranian conduct needs to keep an eye on him.

Ahmadinejobless (Monica Maggioni, July 2007, Foreign Policy)
In Tehran, the mood is quickly shifting. And it’s easy to feel it every time you stop to buy a newspaper, have a coffee, or wait in line at the grocery store. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s star is fading fast.

Since his election in June 2005, Iranians have had conflicted feelings about their president. At first, he evoked interest and curiosity. And there were great expectations from this humble man who was promising economic reform, an anticorruption campaign, and a rigid moral scheme for daily life. Then came fear—when Ahmadinejad began to destroy any chance of good relations with the outside world.

But today in Iran, laughter is supplanting fear. Mocking the president has become a pastime not only for rebellious university students, but also members of the establishment and the government itself.

Posted by Orrin Judd at December 11, 2007 3:59 PM
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