January 24, 2007

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Frustrations in Iran (Arab News, 24 January 2007)

The growing criticism of Ahmadinejad's presidential performance is, therefore, unlikely to be spontaneous. Somewhere in the spiritual leadership, whether from the supreme leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, or perhaps from the six members of the powerful Guardian Council which he appoints, there appears to have been approval for a modest campaign against the country's president. Criticism from Grand Ayatollah Hossein-Ali Montazeri of both Ahmadinejad's domestic shortcomings on the economy and his confrontational approach to the international community over the uranium-enrichment issue -- this week banning IAEA inspectors from entering Iran -- are perhaps not so surprising. The 85 year-old dissident's past outspokenness is believed to have lost him the opportunity to succeed as supreme leader. But the censure is broader. Normally quiescent newspapers have begun to question the wisdom of challenging Washington and the UN and have expressed concern about the sanctions which Ahmadinejad has dismissed as unthreatening. The problem for the president is that the economy is weak, the weaker for his failure to implement the privatization of the 85 percent of the economy that has rested in state hands since the time of the Shah. Despite its oil wealth, life is hard for ordinary Iranians, particularly for the "Bazaari" merchants who were key opponents of the Shah during the revolution. There is therefore a groundswell of frustration because of the president's economic neglect.

A bellwether of the change taking place may be the surprising decision by the Iranian Parliament to effectively foreshorten Ahmadinejad's term of office by a year. In choosing to hold the four-yearly parliamentary and presidential elections at the same time, legislators have cut the present president's incumbency to three years. He will need to stand for re-election in 2008.


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Tehran power struggle intensifies (Robert Tait, January 24, 2007, Guardian Unlimited)

Hashemi Rafsanjani, a pragmatic conservative who was defeated by Mr Ahmadinejad in the 2005 presidential election, believes Iran may have to yield to western demands to suspend uranium enrichment in order to save the country's Islamic system from collapse.

He is trying to persuade the country's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei - who has the final say in all state matters - that further negotiations are essential to avoid a potentially disastrous conflict with the US or Israel.

Mr Rafsanjani demonstrated his growing influence over the nuclear issue in a meeting today with Britain's ambassador to Tehran, Geoffrey Adams. He told Mr Adams that Iran was willing to submit to "any verifying measures by the responsible authorities" to prove the peaceful nature of its nuclear programme, which many in the west suspect is aimed at developing an atomic bomb. [...]

"Before the sanctions, Rafsanjani hoped Iran could obtain its enrichment objectives through mutual understanding with the west. But now he thinks we have reached a dangerous point and that a step should be taken backwards in the hope that two forward can be taken later." said Mohammad Atrianfar, a respected political commentator and associate of Mr Rafsanjani.

"He doesn't see negotiation as a sign of weakness. He wants to limit the impact of the sanctions and get Mr Khamenei and the government to accept that if Iran faces mounting sanctions or a military attack or any crisis which damages the economic life of the people, then there is a possibility of the whole system collapsing," he said.

"Things have changed since the early days of the Islamic revolution, when people would sacrifice their lives. Now they will only defend the system if it provides them a safe life."

Disclosure of Mr Rafsanjani's move to re-establish himself comes after the Guardian last week reported that Mr Ahmadinejad's authority was under pressure from critical MPs and an increasingly concerned Mr Khamenei.

Posted by Orrin Judd at January 24, 2007 8:26 AM
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