Asia Time Online - Daily News
Asia Times Chinese
AT Chinese

    Middle East
     Oct 23, 2007
Page 1 of 2
Iran rocks its nuclear boat
By Kaveh L Afrasiabi

With the clock ticking toward the next meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in November, where IAEA chief Mohammad ElBaradei will present a report on the status of Iran's cooperation with the UN's nuclear agency, Iranians are coming to terms with the sudden resignation of their chief nuclear negotiator, Ali Larijani, and his replacement with Saeed Jalili, a deputy foreign minister and close ally of President Mahmud Ahmadinejad.

The developments have triggered a national debate regarding the

timing, significance and potential ramifications of this unexpected move.

While it is too early to draw any comprehensive review of Larijani's performance as negotiator, it appears that his distinct contribution was in the area of tactical maneuvers, quiet diplomacy, and less in terms of public diplomacy. This is surprising for someone who was head of Iran's state broadcasting monopoly for 10 years up to 2004. In addition, Larijani at times appeared wavering and insufficiently in sync with his determined president; his strategic moves laden with extra heaviness and his tactical "chessmanship" lacking sufficient vagaries as called for by changing circumstances.

According to reports from Iran, ElBaradei has sent a confidential letter to Iran and has yet to receive a reply. ElBaradei's deputy, Olli Heinonen, is due in Tehran this week to meet with Javad Vaeedi, the deputy secretary of the Supreme National Security Council. They are scheduled to discuss Iran's centrifuges, as well as topics covered by the recent Iran-IAEA agreement, in terms of which Iran agreed to disclose information on its nuclear program, including issues related to plutonium and sources of contamination.

Insisting that Larijani's resignation will have no bearing on Iran's nuclear strategy, the Iranian government has also announced that Larijani will accompany Jalili to Rome for a meeting on Tuesday with the European Union's foreign policy chief, Javier Solana.

Does this mean that from now on Solana will negotiate with two individuals from Iran? This question was posed by an Iranian reporter to Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammad-Ali Hosseini, whose response sheds much light on the nature of things to come.

Hosseini stated: "The negotiation with Javier Solana will definitely continue on Tuesday, with the difference that Dr Ali Larijani will participate as the representative of the Supreme Leader of the Revolution in the Supreme National Security Council [Ayatollah Ali Khamenei], with emphasis by his excellency and the president."

In other words, no sooner had Larijani tendered his resignation when he was swung back into the middle of the process. At least for now, that is, as Hosseini indicated that decisions on future meetings will be made later.

Various commentators, especially in Europe and the United States, have been quick in interpreting Larijani's resignation as a "bad omen" reflecting a triumph for hardliners led by Ahmadinejad. But that is simplistic and ignores a more complex reality in the Iran's state affairs. The quest for greater centralization of nuclear decision-making has met a contradictory response in, on the one hand, the move for more direct input by Khamenei, and, on the other hand, a parallel effort by Ahmadinejad to gain greater control of decision-making.

Regarding the former, in the aftermath of Russian President Vladimir Putin's recent Tehran visit, where he submitted a nuclear proposal not to his equal, Ahmadinejad, but rather to Khamenei [1] , thus belittling Iran's president, Khamenei has reportedly held a meeting with all top officials of the regime and informed them for the first time that an American military attack on Iran is "a possibility" that "should be taken seriously".

Khamenei has reportedly promised Putin to "study and consider" his proposal. Confusingly, though, while Larijani has announced that Putin did pass on a proposal for resolving the nuclear standoff, Ahmadinejad has insisted that Putin did not present any such proposal and limited himself to the expansion of bilateral and multilateral relations.

Conspicuously absent from the recent Caspian Sea summit in Tehran, Larijani had reportedly twice before tendered his resignation, and the fact that this time it was accepted has been widely interpreted by Tehran's political analysts as indicative of a "sharpening of internal frictions over the management of Iran's nuclear file", to paraphrase an editorial in the daily Etemad. The newspaper further states, "There are some reports of Larijani's serious dispute with Ahmadinejad in this regard ... and Putin's trip put a seal of approval on those reports."

Another paper, Etemad Melli, has interpreted Larijani's resignation in terms of "placing the decision-making wheel in the hands of the president", adding that Ahmadinejad and his advisors will "certainly pay the costs" of this decision.

Some Iranian pundits have also argued that Larijani resigned to protect himself "from the high cost of managing the nuclear file". The editorial of Etemad Melli asked, "If this interpretation is correct, the Iranian people have the right to ask from Mr Larijani: Would he still vacate the scene if he could guarantee success?"

According to veteran political analyst Davood Hermidas Bavand, the real reason for Larijani's resignation can be found in the failure of the government's "eastern approach" that naively banked on support from China and Russia in the nuclear row, despite Moscow and Beijing's role in supporting sanctions resolutions at the UN Security Council. "Larijani's resignation is his objection to the strategy laid out by the government of Mahmud Ahmadinejad," Bavand insists.

Another pundit, Mohsen Armin, writing in a reformist website, www.emrouz.com, under the heading "Crisis in crisis-management", made the following observation: "A month ago, when Ahmadinejad in his public speech referred to the arbitrary initiative of certain people in negotiating with the Europeans, many thought he was referring to Mr Hassan Rowhani [the previous nuclear negotiator], but those who know the behind-the-scene facts know very well that he was pointing at Larijani, not Rowhani."

Assuming that Armin's observation is correct, then the fact that Larijani has been allowed to attend the next round of nuclear talks, with the explicit blessing of the Supreme Leader, means that Ahmadinejad can no longer level such criticisms at him and we may be seeing a new situation of dual nuclear crisis management.

But, given the gravity of the crisis and the current bifurcation of the negotiation role, the net result is the internalization of factional struggles over proper nuclear policy in the core foreign policy institutions, above all, in the Supreme National Security Council.

Reactions in Parliament

Several parliamentary (majlis) deputies have raised concerns that the 42-year-old Jalili is not experienced enough to shoulder the massive responsibility of negotiating the complex nuclear issue at a critical time when the US and Israel are pushing aggressively for a new round of sanctions on Iran and the threats of war remain on the horizon.

Thus, Ahmad Tavakoli, a member associated with the majority faction, Osoolgarayan, has complained that whereas Larijani has an extensive government background, Jalili lacks the necessary "stature" to replace him in foreign negotiations. He expressed the hope that "this shuffle does not lead to any change in the composition of the secretariat of the Supreme Security Council and the damages of this decision do not climb any higher".

Another deputy, Mohammad Reza Bahonar, the deputy head of the majlis, stated that until now the Ahmadinejad government had replaced the reformists of the Mohammad Khatami era. But now, for the first time, someone like Larijani, "who is approved by the

Continued 1 2 

Caspian summit a triumph for Iran (Oct 18, '07)

Iran riven by nuclear diplomacy row (Oct 17, '07)

1. Bhutto bombs kick off war against US paln

2. Pakistan plans all-out war on militants

3. Benazir's second homecoming

4. Who's bluffing on the Turkish-Iraqi border?

5. Leave, or we will behead you

6. Dear Dinosaurs

7. Bush's faith run over by history

8. Caspian summit a triumph for Tehran

9. Masters of war plan for next 100 years

10. US House waffles on genocide

(Oct 19-21, 2007)


All material on this website is copyright and may not be republished in any form without written permission.
Copyright 1999 - 2007 Asia Times Online (Holdings), Ltd.
Head Office: Unit B, 16/F, Li Dong Building, No. 9 Li Yuen Street East, Central, Hong Kong
Thailand Bureau: 11/13 Petchkasem Road, Hua Hin, Prachuab Kirikhan, Thailand 77110