Thursday, August 11, 2011
Ahmadinejad Appears To Have Done A Deal With The Guards
Getting the military on his side allows him to prepare to challenge Khamenei's nominees in the 2012 presidential elections
By Francis Matthew
A major surprise in Iran this week was the appointment of General Rostam Ghasemi — who held a post with the Revolutionary Guards — as oil minister. A few months ago Iran President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad failed to get approval to give this key job to his loyalist Mohammad Ali Abadi. The oil minister's job has been at the heart of a bitter battle between Ahmadinejad and his conservative opponents headed by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who is supported by the Guards.
It is not obvious why Ahmadinejad gave the oil ministry to a leading opponent. Some analysts see the appointment as Ahmadinejad surrendering to the authority of Parliament and the Supreme Leader, or to the growing power of the Guards.
But others see the appointment as a plan by the president to get the Guards on his side so as to allow Ahmadinejad to strengthen his position to get his supporters ready for a clear run at the next presidential election in 2012.
But what is clear is that Ahmadinejad came to an agreement this week with his rivals in parliament and with the leaders of the Guards to end their year-long dispute. They agreed on three other new Cabinet members, and cemented this with a parliamentary vote of 216 to 22.
As a leading officer in the Guards, Ghasemi is under UN sanctions for its role in Iran's nuclear programme. The US Treasury has frozen his assets, and has prohibited any dealings with him. Ghasemi's new role will encourage those in the US and Israel who want to show Iran as a military dictatorship run by extremists. But this aspect of the appointment is unlikely to trouble Ahmadinejad in the least, who relishes his international notoriety. He needs the deal with the Guards far more than he needs any good opinion of his actions in Washington or Tel Aviv.
This was made clear this week in a rambling interview that Ahmadinejad gave Euronews, in which he remained confident and defiant about Iran's nuclear programme, even if he wrongly picked on Germany and Belgium as examples of European countries with nuclear weapons.
Both states have no nuclear weapons programme at all. But Ahmadinejad was determined to emphasise that Iran has the right to all forms of peaceful nuclear activity, and to make clear that he did not see the point of nuclear weapons.
"Yes, we enrich uranium to 20 per cent, but just for peaceful purposes," said Ahmadinejad. "We have the capability to enrich to any percentage, but at the same time, we are among the limited number of countries whose activities are under the control of the IAEA cameras. When we say we do not have any intention to build a bomb, we are honest and sincere. We believe that if someone wants to build a bomb today he is crazy and insane.
"This is for two reasons: First, those who have bombs are in graver danger then those who do not. The bombs that exist in Germany, Belgium and other European countries cause a great threat to all European countries. An atomic bomb is against all humans. Second, the nuclear bomb is useless and ineffective. The Zionist regime has nuclear bombs, but did it succeed in its war against the Gazans? Did the nuclear bomb give it victory in the 33-Day War against Lebanon? Did the nuclear bomb save the Soviet Union from collapse?" queried the Iranian president.
He also produced classic Ahmadinejad rhetoric, offering friendship to everyone and everything, while glorying in American failure to overcome Iranian hubris. "We believe that there should be friendly relations at the international level and that is the basic principle," he said.
"But the Americans and their administration are confused. They do not know what to do. They do not follow clear policies. They stopped their relationship with us. The Americans thought that if they stopped their relationship with Iran we would be destroyed. Thirty-one years have passed since then and we are still sitting here. They should respect others and observe justice."
But the reality is that this rhetoric does not deal with the economic difficulties that Ahmadinejad would face if the oil price fell. His regime continues to teeter on the edge of a major economic crisis, but has been saved by the high oil prices.
On August 2, his government distributed the promised sixth instalment of cash payments to 73 million Iranians to cover the price rises on electricity, fuel, natural gas, and essential foodstuffs.
But using oil money to pay for what Ahmadinejad's government calls reform does not tackle the serious underlying issues. Eventually, the regime should use non-oil sources to raise the money to pay for these subsidies and also support the many businesses badly hit by the higher fuel and energy charges.
There is no money in the reserves, and if (when) the oil price falls, it will leave Ahmadinejad's government dangerously exposed to popular fury at the lack of subsidies.
This commentary was published in The GULF NEWS on 11/08/2011