British Embassy row: Why Iran's hard-liners are inviting isolation
A senior cleric called Friday for British Embassy employees to be tried for allegedly inciting mass protests. The move signals a heightened effort to portray recent unrest as a foreign plot.
A leading Iranian cleric's call Friday for some Iranian employees of the British Embassy to be tried for allegedly inciting prodemocracy protests has ratcheted up Iran's confrontation with both global powers and the sizable proportion of its own citizenry who believe the country's June 12 presidential election was rigged in favor of incumbent Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.Skip to next paragraph
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In a sermon at Tehran University, Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati suggested that the mass demonstrations against the official election result – the largest since the 1979 Islamic revolution – were premeditated by foreign powers.
"[The enemy] had plotted the velvet revolution prior to the election, and even on the British foreign ministry website in March it was announced that Iran's election might be accompanied by some unrest and that British citizens were warned to be careful," he said, according to the Guardian newspaper in London. "What is the meaning of these predictions?"
The statement by Ayatollah Jannati, head of the country's Guardian Council – a sort of theocratic Supreme Court – was swiftly condemned by European leaders. Britain has called for European Union members to recall their ambassadors from Tehran, and French President Nicolas Sarkozy called for sanctions so that Iran's leaders "will really understand that the path they have chosen will be a dead end."
The hard-liners in Tehran appear to be consciously pursuing increased isolation for themselves and their country to create an impression that dangerous outside forces – and not legitimate domestic grievances – were behind the outpouring of national anger at the election result. They appear to believe such a course will make it easier to silence their opponents.
"This is their way of saying we have a focal point of attack – keep sending out the message that this is all a foreign plot. I don't have any faith that the government really believes this, but I don't forsee them giving up this card very easily," says Trita Parsi, president of the National Iranian American Council in Washington. "In fact these demonstrations ... are disorganized, spontaneous. They're out there because of their rage and frustration at seeing their election stolen."
Mr. Parsi and other analysts say now the government's biggest hurdle is credibility with its own citizens.