Ahmadinejad faces domestic criticism for tough line on Iran's nuclear program

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad faces new domestic criticism from both reformists and conservatives after he called Iran's nuclear program a train that "has no brake and no reverse gear" in a speech Sunday.

The Guardian reports that "critics from across the Iranian political spectrum" have taken Mr. Ahmadinejad to task for his uncompromising speech on the development of Iran's nuclear program.

Mohammad Atrianfar, a respected political commentator, accused the president of using "the language of the bazaar" and said his comments had made it harder for Ali Larijani, the country's top nuclear negotiator, to reach a compromise with European diplomats. ...

"This rhetoric is not suitable for a president and has no place in diplomatic circles," said Mr Atrianfar, a confidant of Hashemi Rafsanjani, an influential regime insider and rival of Mr Ahmadinejad. "It is the language people in the bazaar and alleyways use to address the simplest issues of life."

The Guardian also cites Fayaz Zahed, leader of the pro-reform Islamic Iran Solidarity party, who criticized Ahmadinejad for choosing to imitate the leadership style of Venezuela's Hugo Chávez, rather than that of more internationally respected leaders like South Africa's Nelson Mandela or the Czech Republic's Vaclav Havel.

"The brake exists to get the train safely to its destination," Mr Zahed wrote in the newspaper Etemad-e Melli. "Perhaps on the journey, we might find the track broken and are obliged to move our passengers by using the reverse gear to get to a safer track. Iran is a nation of earthquakes, flood and national disasters! You are our head. We should be able to trust you."

The UK-based Web portal IranMania reports that the conservative newspaper Resalat took issue with Ahmadinejad's tone as well, writing that "neither weakness nor unnecessarily offensive language is acceptable in foreign policy."

"Our foreign policy must reflect the ancient Iranian civilization and rich Islamic culture of the Iranian nation. Therefore, delicacy ... rich diplomatic language and non-primitive policies must be part of a calculated combination to work," [the newspaper] said.

The Associated Press writes that this latest round of criticism comes on the heels of indications that Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran's supreme leader who has the final say on all Iranian policy, may be unhappy with Ahmadinejad's performance as president.

Last week, Khamenei voiced rare criticism of the domestic performance of Ahmadinejad's government, and the president was notably absent when a group of Cabinet members and vice presidents met with Khamenei, who has the final word in all political affairs in Iran, including the nuclear issue.

The increasing criticism reflects public worries about the course of the country's confrontation with the United States and the West. Washington has taken a more aggressive stance toward Iran, building up the U.S. military presence in the Gulf and accusing Tehran of backing militants in Iraq. That has heightened fears among Iranians of possible U.S. military action.

However, Trita Parsi, president of the National Iranian American Council, writes in a commentary for the Inter Press Service that the United States needs to recognize that UN sanctions against Iran are not the cause of the current spate of criticism of Ahmadinejad.

Over the past few months, Iran's hard-line president has suffered several political defeats at home. The most important of these were the Dec. 15 municipal elections last year where candidates allied with the president fared miserably, while centrist conservatives close to former President Hashemi Rafsanjani – a key rival of Ahmadinejad – made significant gains.

Ahmadinejad's defeat, coupled with increased criticism against him at home over his economic policies and his failure to evade UN Security Council Sanctions, have left Washington with the impression that its efforts to squeeze Iran's access to international finance has borne fruit at a surprising rate. ...

The George W. Bush administration seems to be confusing its sanctions policies with Ahmadinejad's incompetent economic policies. The push-back against Ahmadinejad has, according to observers of Iran's domestic political scene, far more to do with his failed economic policies and his populist promises, which have created exaggerated expectations among the Iranian populace, than with Tehran's nuclear posturing or Washington's financial sanctions.

Nonetheless, "thanks to Ahmadinejad," writes Iranian author Amir Taheri in a commentary for the Gulf News of the United Arab Emirates, "the nuclear issue has become a regime change issue" in Iran, and its outcome will radically change the course of the country.

If [Ahmadinejad's] Khomeinist regime emerges victorious from the current confrontation, it would move to a higher degree of radicalism, thus, in effect, becoming a new regime.

The radical faction would be able to purge the rich and corrupt mullahs by promoting a new generation of zealots linked with the Islamic Revolutionary Guard and the security services. It would also move onto the offensive in the region, seeking to reshape it after the Khomeinist revolution's geo-strategic interests.

If, on the other hand, the Khomeinist regime is forced to back down on this issue, the radical moment would fade, while the many enemies of the regime regroup to either topple it or change it beyond recognition as Deng Xiao-ping did with the Maoist regime in China.

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