New Iranian President's Diplomacy Sparks Controversy
By Bill Samii, Radio Free
On the sidelines of a
pro-nuclear-power rally in Tehran on 7 October, Iranian government spokesman
Gholam Hussein Elham said all the country's officials agree with Tehran's
conduct of nuclear negotiations and its general interaction with other
countries, the Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) reported. "With the exception
of those who disagree with the Islamic system in principle," Elham added, "there
is no disagreement among political parties or groups that conduct their
activities within the law and believe in the principle of the Islamic system in
Iran." However, the general lack of diplomatic finesse displayed by President
Mahmud Ahmadinejad and his new administration has caught observers by surprise,
and the Iranians' actions and comments on the nuclear issue have alienated
foreign capitals that previously were positively disposed toward
Observers in Iran are
expressing concern about this turn of events. On the one hand, the Iranian
decision-making apparatus is not closed, so these concerns could have an impact
on governmental actions. On the other hand, Ahmadinejad's actions appear to have
Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei's approval, so anticipation of a reversal
may be unrealistic.
Ahmadinejad's Lack Of Finesse
Ahmadinejad's style has been evident since August, when Tehran first
rejected a European Union proposal on the nuclear
issue. The EU proposal ruled out Iran's enriching uranium and reprocessing
plutonium, recommended allowing Iran to purchase nuclear fuel and send it
elsewhere for disposal, and called for a continuation of Iran's voluntary
suspension of uranium-conversion activities. Other aspects of the proposal
focused on industrial and technological cooperation, energy issues, and
intellectual property rights (see "EU Submits Offer To End Nuclear Standoff").
The international community was eager to hear Ahmadinejad's
counterproposal when he addressed the UN General Assembly on 17 September.
However, rather than moving the negotiations forward, Ahmadinejad aired
grievances relating to events that took place more than half a century ago. He
also discussed his conspiracy theory about the 11 September 2001 terrorist
attacks and accused the United States of creating and supporting Al Qaeda.
Ahmadinejad called for a nuclear-weapons-free Middle East and expressed concern
about "nuclear apartheid." He offered a "serious partnership" with other
countries' private and public sectors implementing uranium-enrichment programs.
Ahmadinejad was adamant about Iran's intention to master the nuclear-fuel cycle.
One week later, the IAEA governing board issued a resolution calling on
Tehran to be more cooperative and transparent, and hinting that referral to the
UN Security Council could be next.
In a purported interview that
appeared in the 1 October "Khaleej Times" newspaper, based in the United Arab
Emirates, Ahmadinejad was quoted as saying that Iran has the right to use
nuclear energy peacefully, and the production or use of nuclear weapons is
forbidden by Islam. He purportedly stressed that Iran has been cooperating with
the IAEA. "But if Iran's case is sent to the Security Council," he was quoted as
saying, "we will respond by many ways for example by holding back on oil sales
or limiting inspections of our nuclear facilities."
The same day,
however, the presidential office rejected the authenticity of the interview,
IRNA reported. The presidential office said Ahmadinejad never gave an oral or
written interview to the newspaper. "Such a claim is nothing more than a mere
fabrication, so we call all domestic media to be aware and show vigilance in
dealing with propaganda plots hatched by foreign media," the statement from
Ahmadinejad's office said.
foreign-policy team -- Supreme National Security Council Secretary Ali Larijani
and Foreign Minister Mustafa Mottaki -- has been unfavorably compared with the
intellectual but feckless team assembled by former President Hojatoleslam
Mohammad Khatami. The latter team included experienced individuals such as
Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi and Supreme National Security Council Secretary
Hojatoleslam Hassan Rohani. These officials stressed perceived national
interests rather than ideology and nationalism when conducting business,
therefore conveying the impression that they were rational actors with whom
others could do business.
Iranian observers are becoming increasingly
aware of the negative impact of Ahmadinejad's actions, and they are criticizing
his diplomatic efforts.
Expediency Council Secretary Mohsen Rezai told
reporters on 1 October that Ahmadinejad's 17 September proposal at the UN was
inadvisable and unnecessary, the Iranian Students News Agency (ISNA) reported.
"When Iran didn't accept the Europeans' proposal, the latter should have amended
it," Rezai said. "There was no need for Iran to make a proposal to the
Europeans." Rezai said this might have been a diplomatic mistake, but if the
issue is managed well, then "America and Europe will be the main losers if our
case is referred to the Security Council."
The chairman of the
Expediency Council, Ayatollah Ali-Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani, said in his 30
September sermon at the Tehran Friday prayers that Iran is determined to defend
its right to use nuclear technology and it will not be intimidated into
surrendering, state radio reported. He said Iran should talk with its opponents
-- which he identified as "America, Europe, and others" -- and achieve trust. "I
would like to let the [Iranian] managers in this sector know that here you need
diplomacy and not slogans," he said. Hashemi-Rafsanjani called for prudence,
patience, and wisdom, while avoiding provocations. He said this issue must be
resolved while protecting Iran's rights.
Time For 'Crisis
Criticism from Rezai and Hashemi-Rafsanjani is not
altogether unexpected. They were Ahmadinejad's rivals in the presidential
election. Rezai may have expected a cabinet post or Supreme National Security
Council position in exchange for his stepping out of the presidential race at
the last minute. Furthermore, the 49- year-old Ahmadinejad's blunt,
confrontational style is very unlike that of the much older and more pragmatic
But there has been criticism from other corners as
well. Tabriz parliamentary representative Akbar Alami, who serves on the Foreign
Policy and National Security Committee, said of the Supreme National Security
Committee: "People who until very recently did not have any knowledge about the
nuclear dossier and did not even know what nuclear energy was have now become
high-ranking experts in the nuclear dossier of the Islamic Republic of Iran." He
also criticized some of his colleagues in the legislature, "Aftab-i Yazd"
reported on 29 September. He accused some parliamentarians of trying to block
discussion of the nuclear issue, saying they are acting on behalf of the Supreme
National Security Council.
A commentary in the pro-reform "Sharq" on 2
October noted that Iran is facing an "atmosphere of distrust" in the
international arena. The Ahmadinejad administration's eastward-oriented foreign
policy has proven to be ineffective in the nuclear case, the daily continued, so
"the diplomatic apparatus should understand international realities and distance
itself from the Security Council tsunami." The commentary also recommended the
creation of a "crisis-diplomacy team."
An editorial in the hard-line
"Resalat" daily on 29 September also commented on the needs of the foreign
policy team. It noted that the diplomats need a "guidance council" or a
"thinking room" (presumably, a foreign policy think tank). "Resalat" said
diplomats and politicians do not have the time to study the issues they must
deal with because of their workloads, while researchers and scholars are
somewhat out of touch with the realities of diplomacy. "The establishment of a
thinking room can bring the areas of operations and research closer together and
create balance and equilibrium and make up for the research shortcomings and
weaknesses in the area of foreign policy."
No Obvious Effect
Ahmadinejad has evidently not been touched by such criticism. In a 5
October speech he said Iran is not opposed to negotiations on the nuclear issue,
state television reported. But he added that Iran will not accept negotiations
that are meant to deprive Iranians of their rights. Ahmadinejad said European
countries other than the so-called EU-3 (France, Germany, and the United
Kingdom) have shown an interest in discussing the nuclear issue with Iran, and
these proposals are under review. Turning to the country's foreign policy in
general, Ahmadinejad said Iranian diplomats defend the country's rights
Iran's current position on the nuclear issue should not be
attributed to Ahmadinejad alone. Even before his inauguration Tehran made it
clear that all the regime's leaders have a common view on nuclear policy.
Furthermore, Ahmadinejad is not the only decision maker on the nuclear issue.
Other top officials of the regime -- including Hashemi-Rafsanjani and Rohani --
contribute to the process and Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has veto
authority over his actions. Finally, Tehran has been fairly forthright for some
time on what it sees as its right to master the complete nuclear-fuel cycle.
Copyright (c) 2005 RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036. www.rferl.org
... Payvand News - 10/11/05 ... --