Iran's leader drawing fire
President Ahmadinejad is proving too radical even for some Iranian conservatives.
Courting confrontation both at home and abroad, Iran's hard-line president is inserting like-minded ideologues into key positions. He's holding strong to Iran's nuclear ambitions. And he's inviting ire in the West with more anti-Israel rhetoric.Skip to next paragraph
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But President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is drawing criticism from abroad - and from some conservatives in Iran - for crossing such so-called red lines.
As the chief of the UN's nuclear watchdog agency Mohamed ElBaradei accepted the Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo on Saturday, he declared that "we must ensure, absolutely, that no more countries acquire these deadly [nuclear] weapons." Mr. ElBaradei, who shared the prize with his International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), says the UN is "losing patience" with Iran to "show the kind of transparency they need to show."
Gholamreza Aghazadeh, the head of Iran's nuclear organization, countered that "Iran is also losing its patience with them," and will "no doubt" produce its own nuclear fuel.
This nuclear diplomatic sparring was accompanied by sharp condemnation in the West this weekend after Mr. Ahmadinejad denied that the Holocaust took place, and suggested that Israel should move to Europe. The outside criticism is coincidoing with political attacks from within.
The president's fourth candidate for the top oil post, veteran ministry official Kazem Vaziri-Hamaneh, was finally approved by parliament Sunday. But that "victory" comes amid rising concern among clerics and many conservatives about Ahmadinejad's decisions to replace top managers with less-experienced ideologues.
While Iran's parliament is dominated by conservatives, analysts say that Ahmadinejad can only count on one-quarter of the votes. The parliament rejected his first three inexperienced candidates for oil minister - an unprecedented setback for a new president here. The industry generates as much as 80 percent of government revenues.
Now some in parliament are trying to unseat his defense minister over the military plane crash that killed 108 people last week.
"The fundamentalists criticize [Ahmadinejad] because they don't want a bad situation to get worse," says Mohammad Ali Ayazi, a cleric and professor at the prestigious seminary in Iran's religious center of Qom. "The more [Ahmadinejad's cabinet] do not satisfy the promises they made, the criticism will increase toward them," says Mr. Ayazi. The president's [populist] election slogans "have less color now; it's not the same. Maybe after six months, they will have no color at all."
Ahmadinejad's supporters seem unfazed by the latest political setbacks and criticism. "Previous governments and parliaments closed their eyes and did not accept criticism," says Hamidreza Taraghi, of the right-wing Islamic Coalition Society. "Self-criticism is necessary, because it means a certain level of growth in managing the country - that will benefit everyone, and make everyone accountable."
Ahmadinejad often points out that he was an underdog who won the June presidential vote with little formal backing from Iran's power centers, promising to redistribute Iran's oil wealth to the poor, and to root out widespread corruption. He says he's not beholden to any faction.
"[Ahmadinejad] is a kind of idealist, but there is a gap between the ideals you have in your mind, and what you find in the real world," says Amir Mohebian, a columnist with the conservative Resalat newspaper. "And Mr. Ahmadinejad wants to jump" from one to the other.