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When Ahmadinejad and the US interests coincide

By Shahir ShahidSaless

The US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton’s October 3 statements were received with a combination of cheers and astonishment by the Iranian ordinary people, as well as the media and even experts. “Sanction,” she said, “could be remedied in short order [emphasis added] if the Iranian government were willing to work with the P5+1 and the rest of the international community in a sincere manner,”  referring to the five permanent members of the UN Security Council - Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States - as well as Germany. The statement is indeed confusing for numerous reasons.

In general, when US policymakers pass a law, it becomes extremely difficult to reverse that law. For example, sanctions that were imposed on Saddam Hussein’s regime were only lifted in 2009, six years after the US took control of Iraq.  Given Israel’s progressively heightened rhetoric against Iran and strong pro-Israel support in the US Congress, it is almost impossible to nullify several sanction acts already ratified. However, the US president may use the authority given to him under the Iran Central Bank sanction bill to grant waivers to Iran’s petroleum purchasers, thus considerably relieving pressure on Iran. Despite this allowance, it is a highly improbable scenario. Short of Iran’s complete suspension of its nuclear enrichment program, Obama will not and cannot make any meaningful deal with Iran. He is one month away from Election Day, and any concession on behalf of the US would provide his opponents, with support from the already-dissatisfied pro-Israel lobby, a golden opportunity to bombard Obama’s foreign policy.

We now know, as influential experts in Europe and the US have pointed out, that the notion of giving up all enrichment “has become a nationalist taboo in Iran.” Zero uranium enrichment, as some highly regarded experts posit, is out of question. Now, given that reaching consensus with Iran over a ten-year, center stage, international conflict is practically impossible within two or three weeks, why would the US put forth such a proposal?

Another statement in Mrs. Clinton’s same speech may explain the US overture. Referring to Iran’s recent economic protests and its currency plunge, the Secretary of State blamed Iran’s leadership for the crisis. “They have made their own government decisions, having nothing to do with the sanctions, that have had an impact on the economic conditions inside the country,” Clinton told reporters. One infers from this declaration that her impractical proposal is designed to instigate a turn by Iran’s people against their Government, mainly the man in charge of making decisions with regard to Iran’s nuclear issue, Iran’s Supreme Leader, thus, pressuring him into flexibility, if not a regime change.

There exists another reason that might explain the proposal’s rationale. Protracted, crippling sanctions also create a moral dilemma. While the US purports concern for human rights of the Iranian people, justification for prolonged sanctions causing tremendous economic pressure on ordinary Iranians, particularly its jobless youth, eludes the concern.

On the other side of the fence, Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, whose second term expires in June 2013, visited the UN General Assembly in New York in late September and presented for several interviews. In each of his interviews with Japan’s NHK, Associated Press, CBS, and The New York Times, he proffered reconciliation with the US. During a meeting with 150 American professors and students, he maintained that, “Iran recognizes the United States and believes that we can have relations.” He added, “The Islamic Republic of Iran is prepared to expedite relations between the two countries, revising its negative view toward the US, provided that the US takes a step to create understanding between the two countries.” Ahmadinejad’s reiteration could not be accidental.

The voices demanding Ahmadinejad’s resignation, even in Iran’s parliament, resonate louder each day. He is under attack from all political affiliations for his mismanagement, lack of cooperation with differing political factions, and for his apathy toward Iran’s current economic crisis. In his nationally televised and widely-anticipated October 2 press conference regarding Iran’s national currency crisis, Ahmadinejad presented no solution or plan. Instead, he directly attacked the speaker of the parliament, Ali Larijani; the judiciary branch; Tehran’s municipality; and indirectly, Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf, Tehran’s Mayor, said to be a favorite for winning the June 2013 presidential election. Ahmadinejad also sharply criticized the Fars News Agency, affiliated to the Iran Revolutionary Guard Corp. (IRGC), as one of the factors that has contributed to the rial’s nosedive.

Ahmadinejad is certainly beleaguered and struggling for his political life. Therefore, ostensibly, his proposals for reconciliation with the US could not be taken seriously. But was he delivering a message from Ayatollah Khamenei?  No. Senior advisor to the Supreme Leader in foreign affairs, Ali Akbar Velayati, wasted no time responding to Ahmadinejad’s statements. He said, “Iran's general policy with respect to relations with the US has not changed and no decision has been made in this regard.” 

To aid in speculation behind these maneuvers in New York, two developments are noteworthy. First, in June 2012, in an interview with German newspaper, Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung, Ahmadinejad stunned many in Iran by stating he planned to leave politics upon expiration of second term. He said that he had no intention of following the Putin-Medvedev example and that he would “return to scientific work” rather than forming a political party.  Things must have changed in the last three months, however. In a later development during his recent visit to New York, when asked if he would remain in politics upon next year’s expiration of his presidency, he said, “Of course, I cannot be away from a political atmosphere...Wherever I am, politics will follow me.”

So, if the disquieted Ahmadinejad clearly knows that Washington would not take his overtures for better relations seriously, what motivated his adoption of such a conciliatory tone? Iran's collapsing currency and other economic maladies have created a dangerous situation for anyone who may ultimately be blamed and convicted in the court of the Iranians’ public opinion. The situation is so precarious, that even the US government, who has relentlessly espoused that sanctions are working, backed off in the wake of Tehran’s jolting riots, and blamed the Iranian government rather than claiming a victory for US policies.

Ahmadinejad is following the same rationale. He knows that advocating better relations with the US will not advance, but he is determined to remain in politics. By repeating his proposal five times and in different venues, he tries to establish that what he said was not a fluke. He intends to convince Iran’s people that he is the man who wants to bring the US-Iran conflict to an end, thus ridding their country from sanctions, but that he is prevented by his opponents, led by the Supreme Leader, from doing so. Ahmadinejad hopes to create a powerful grassroots support, helping him to return after the expiration of his second term, contradictorily, within the same framework of the Putin-Medvedev scenario.

Other recent articles by Shahir ShahidSaless:

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