Page 1 of 2 Iran riven by nuclear diplomacy row By Kaveh L Afrasiabi
The continuing Iranian nuclear standoff has now found as its natural corollary
a growing polarization inside Iran between the government of President Mahmud
Ahmadinejad and other political factions who disagree with the president's
nuclear and non-nuclear diplomacy.
Threatening the well-spring of political unity in Iran, the nuclear crisis has
now triggered a political minefield pitting the leading
politicians of the Islamic Republic against each other.
The opposing sides have strong links with the Supreme Leader, Ayatolah Khamenei
- all the more reason to pause on the question of "parallel diplomacy" that is
at the center of the political storm in Iran today. The present debates on
"parallel diplomacy" have been taking place in a theoretical and methodological
vacuum, however, and need to be couched in a comparative historical perspective
before they can assist Iran's foreign policy objectives.
Although the controversy has been going on since the outset of Ahmadinejad's
presidency two years ago, the sharpened attacks and counterattacks reflect a
qualitative deepening of political fissures between and among the rival
factions, which are pre-positioning themselves for the next round of
presidential elections in 2009. At the same time, public divisions over the
boiler plate of nuclear diplomacy reflect the Islamic polity's pluralistic
feature and belie the false assumption that Iran is ruled by a theocratic
system pure and simple.
The nature of debate
Triggered by last month's European tour of Iran's former nuclear negotiation
chief, Hassan Rowhani, who is also Khamenei's representative at the Supreme
National Security Council and is closely affiliated with the "centerist" former
president, Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, the controversy over "parallel
diplomacy" has reached new heights as a result of continuing accusations of
"nuclear espionage" leveled against some members of the previous negotiation
team and Rowhani's biting criticism that Ahmadinejad's foreign policy has
resulted in Iran's isolation and rising threats against the country.
Rowhani's statements, before the central committee of the Moderation and
Progress Party on October 10, is worth quoting:
Today in the
international sphere we are confronted with more threats than ever before. A
country's diplomacy is successful when it does not allow the enemy to bind to
itself other countries against the national interests of that country ... We
should not create opportunities for the expansion of enemies ... Unfortunately,
our enemies are increasing. Yesterday, England was standing next to America,
but today, France has heatedly joined the United States.
Rowhani's speech coincided with the Moscow meeting of French President Nicolas
Sarkozy with his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, who reportedly "snubbed"
Sarkozy on Iran and in no unmistakable language rebuffed him on the issue of
further sanctions against the country, insisting that "there is no data" to
support the argument that Iran is developing nuclear weapons. (Further pointing
to warming Russia-Iran relations, on the eve of the much anticipated
multilateral summit of Caspian littoral states, Iran's Foreign Ministry has
disclosed that Putin will also discuss bilateral issues with Iran and that
"good news regarding the Bushehr power plant" will be broadcast shortly.)
Sarkozy has had similar lack of luck with the Chinese leaders, nor can he count
on even German support for his bid to sell America's agenda on Iran; in a word,
the more Sarkozy and his foreign policy team try to do so, the more they lose
political credibility and even legimitacy, isolating themselves.
Also, Rowhani's blistering criticisms coincided with a two-day visit by a
high-ranking delegation from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), led
by the Deputy Director-General, Olli Heinonen, who met with the Iranian
officials and fine tuned the recent Iran-IAEA agreement pertaining to nuclear
transparency and the timetable to resolve "outstanding questions" regarding the
chronology of Iran's centrifuges.
Pointing to this agreement as well as the UN Security Council's inability to
impose further sanctions in light of opposition by Russia and China, and
Putin's much-anticipated planned visit to Tehran next week irrespective of the
loud American objections to such a visit, Ahmadinejad's supporters have
questioned the wisdom, let alone timing, of Rowhani's criticisms. Some members
of the Majlis (parliament) have gone even further and warned of legal action
against those engaging in unathorized "parallel diplomacy".
Case in point, Hamid Reza Haji Bababi, a member of the Majlis's Foreign Policy
and National Security Committee, has stated that "parallel diplomacy" weakens
the country's foreign policy and "only those officially responsible can express
an official position". Another MP, Ahmad Bozorgian, affiliated with the
majority faction, Osoolgarayan, has referred to "parallel diplomacy" as the
regime's "Achilles heel" and has warned that this "confuses the Westerners" and
leads them to "think that we have fallen to contradictions".
But the most blistering attack on "parallel diplomacy" has been launched by
Ahmadinejad himself, directly critcizing Rowhani in a Qods Day public speech
last week (parts of which, pertaining to "nuclear spies", was censored by the
"Some people go on their own and say we want to negotiate and the enemies since
they are in a dead end greet them and try to find an outlet for exiting their
dead end," Ahmadinejad stated. The pro-Ahmadinejad website, www.rajanews.com,
has published the censored segment of his speech, which alludes to one of
Rowhani's associates, Hossein Mousavian, who is formally charged with spying:
"There were people who would give information to the enemy systematically and
would provoke the enemy and tell them, why are you delaying, pass a resolution
quickly, increase your pressures and they will submit, so and so has difference
of opinion with so and so, try to work on those divisions."
Of course, these are serious allegations and carry legal connotations, ie, we
may soon see the engulfment of Iran's judiciary in the on-going nuclear policy
rift much to the detriment of the nation's political unity. Certainly, any
criminialization of dissent over the government's nuclear policy is a step in
the wrong direction and should be avoided at all costs.
For the moment, the equilibrium of political power, together with the
intermediation of the Supreme Leader, militates against an uncontrolled
factionalism that could weaken the whole regime