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Wednesday, September 14, 2011
Iran: Behind The Scenes Politics At Play In Ahmadinejad's U.N. Trip
Iran-watchers will be monitoring the sendoff and makeup of the
delegation accompanying President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to the United Nations
By Ali Vaez
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad
autumn comes the ritualistic visit of the Iranian president to New York City to
attend the annual opening of the UN General Assembly. This September marks
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's eighth junket to the Big Apple. No other Iranian
president has represented his country at the General Assembly more than twice.
is easy to predict that Mr Ahmadinejad will stir a media circus upon his
arrival. He will address the member states (or at least the delegates who do
not walk out), will use his peculiar bombast to slam Israel, will again raise
controversy about the September 11 attacks and, most importantly, will boast
about his country's controversial nuclear programme.
the president was already embarked on a diplomatic gambit ahead of his trip,
announcing the expected release of the two US hikers, Shane Bauer and Josh
Fattal, who have been held for more than two years in Iran's infamous Evin
this trip could be different from others because the alliance between Mr
Ahmadinejad and his former backer, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, has been torn
asunder in the past few months. The "divinely chosen" president has
been downgraded to the patron of the "deviant current" after he tried
to assert his presidential prerogatives.
Supreme Leader has emerged from the political row in Tehran as the apparent
victor. But although Mr Ahmadinejad's political future remains uncertain, it
would be premature to write him off as a lame duck president. He still has two
years to plot a comeback.
the US voyage looms on the horizon, Ayatollah Khamenei finds himself on the
horns of a dilemma. If he forbids the trip, he would further expose fissures at
the core of the regime - if the trip goes ahead, the outspoken president will
have a platform on the highest international stage. Hence Mr Ahmadinejad's trip
will be a litmus test of the prevailing balance of power in Tehran.
the Iranian president receives "guidance" from the Supreme Leader
before embarking on the journey to the United States. On the day of departure,
there is a farewell ceremony at the airport that is often revealing.
Customarily, the man standing next to the president is Ali Akbar Velayati, a
US-educated paediatrician, who has served as Iran's foreign minister for 16
years. He is considered Ayatollah Khamenei's confidant and personal diplomat.
the other side of the president usually stands Mohammad Mohammadi Golpaygani, a
cleric who is the private secretary of the Supreme Leader. Hence, the stage is
carefully set to demonstrate whose envoy is being sent. The absence of
Ayatollah Khamenei's acolytes at the departure ceremony could be telling.
Khamenei's disapproval paves the way for the president's rivals to poison the
international climate by making bellicose anti-American statements. The
Larijani brothers Ali and Sadegh, respectively the heads of the legislative and
judiciary branches, are ardent critics of Mr Ahmadinejad. Through them,
Ayatollah Khamenei can create internal and international pressure on the
large contingent usually accompanies Mr Ahmadinejad during his visits,
including members of his family, ministers, parliamentarians, advisers and
security personnel. One of these men, who has always been at his side murmuring
into his ear, is at the centre of this political storm. Esfandiar Rahim
Mashaei, the president's chief-of-staff and his son's father-in-law, is accused
of bewitching Mr Ahmadinejad and attempting to secretly contact US officials.
Mr Ahmadinejad has not budged in his defence of Mr Mashaei, the controversial
adviser has kept a low profile in the past few weeks. His presence or absence
in New York might reveal the extent of Mr Ahmadinejad's confidence and his
team's morale. At least 25 members of the president's circle have been arrested
in the past few months as a result of the rift in the leadership.
Ahmadinejad used his past visits to New York as public-relations campaigns to
divert attention from economic and social disaffection at home. His
inflammatory Holocaust denials and September 11 conspiracy theories could be
considered the rational use of irrationality. By provoking international anger,
he boosts his domestic position and silences foes in Tehran. The question of
Palestinian statehood, likely to be tabled at the United Nations this
September, would provide him with just such an opportunity.
the past, the policy of Iran's state-controlled media had been to portray Mr
Ahmadinejad's belligerence as an international victory against the "Great
Satan" and the unjust world order. That praise has advanced the
president's domestic agenda. If the Ayatollah Khamenei wants to rein in the
president, this trip will not receive the same media coverage.
like in chess, these nuanced moves can offer some insights into the deeper
political game being played in Tehran. By providing visas to Mr Ahmadinejad and
his entourage, Washington may set the chessboard and take a step back. As
Napoleon Bonaparte once said: "When your enemy is destroying himself,
-This commentary was published in The National on 14/09/2011
-Ali Vaez is a fellow for science and technology and the director of the Iran
project at the Federation of American Scientists