In nuclear chief, Iran signals harder line
Iran's abrupt change of nuclear negotiators spotlights internal power struggles, too.
The abrupt resignation of Iran's chief nuclear negotiator signals a turn toward a harder line with the US and Europe as talks over Iran's nuclear program resume in Rome Tuesday.Skip to next paragraph
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The high-level change also exposes a power struggle between conservative factions in Iran, say analysts, that has now boosted the power of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad while raising questions about the calculations of Iran's supreme religious leader, Ayatollah Sayyed Ali Khamenei.
It shows that Mr. Ahmadinejad is "still very much in the driver's seat [and] the consequences for Iranian foreign policy are going to be fairly dire," says Ali Ansari, author of "Confronting Iran: The Failure of American Foreign Policy and the Next Conflict in the Middle East." "It plays right into the hands of American hard-liners."
Iranian officials insist that the departure of Ali Larijani, the conservative secretary of the Supreme National Security Council and a former protégé of Ayatollah Khamenei, will not alter Iran's nuclear policy. But naming a relatively obscure official with little negotiating experience to replace him is not likely to produce a breakthrough either.
"The whole Iranian political scene is in shock," says Farideh Farhi, an Iran specialist at the University of Hawaii. "That puts a lot of pressure on Mr. Khamenei right now to come in and explain, justify, and more importantly, calm down the political environment."
"Mr. Khamenei has been put on the spot because [it] either says that he is out of control – that he doesn't have control over what is happening in the country – or he is on the side of Mr. Ahmadinejad," says Ms. Farhi, contacted in Boston.
Such a position could prove difficult for the supreme leader, "because there is a tremendous amount of unhappiness, even among the conservatives, about the way things are being run in Iran," adds Farhi. "If all of that from now on should be blamed not only on Ahmadinejad but also on Khamenei ... that undermines [his] position as a consensus builder."
Iran is under increasing pressure from the West, which accuses Iran of trying to build a nuclear weapon – a charge Iran denies. American diplomats are pushing for a third set of UN Security Council sanctions over Iran's refusal to halt uranium enrichment. Last week, President Bush said he had been telling world leaders, "If you're interested in avoiding World War III, it seems you ought to be interested in preventing them [the Iranians] from having the knowledge necessary to make a nuclear weapon."
But Iran's strategies for peaceful nuclear energy are "unchangeable goals" regardless of who negotiates, foreign ministry spokesman Mohammad Ali Hosseini said on Sunday. "There is complete solidarity among the ranks of Iranian officials."
Mr. Larijani, a hard-liner and the candidate chosen by Iran's traditional conservatives months before the June 2005 presidential elections, has led Iran's side in all crucial talks since then. He was highly critical of the more moderate negotiating tactics of his reform-minded predecessors, and in 2006 dismissed an offer of Western economic incentives in exchange for halting Iran's nuclear program, saying the Security Council "should not think that they can make us happy with candies."