Battling stiff international sanctions over Iran’s uranium-enrichment program and pondering possible negotiations with the United States, the country’s supreme leader has called for national unity, giving Ahmadinejad a lifeline when he most needed it.
Before the supreme leader stepped in recently, criticism of Ahmadinejad was rampant, especially over his administration’s handling of Iran’s economy. Amid reports of a feud with the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Ahmadinejad’s policies have come under repeated attack, as have his most loyal advisers.
But Ahmadinejad, who won a controversial reelection bid in 2009, has again demonstrated mastery of one of the most important traits in Iranian politics: the ability to simply survive.
Ahmadinejad continues to exert considerable influence in the Islamic Republic, to the dismay of those who had hoped to see him forced from office. Adversaries see his policy decisions as reckless, especially the replacement of Iran’s subsidy program with cash payouts, which critics say has fueled inflation.
Allegations of corruption against his ministers have also raised the ire of longtime members of the establishment, who deem Ahmadinejad an uncontrollable threat to the system they built.
Ahmadinejad’s bombastic statements about Israel have made him a pariah in the West. But ironically, it is his vocal support for direct negotiations with the United States that offers the clearest explanation of why his detractors have been abruptly silenced.
While Ahmadinejad has repeatedly advocated talks with Washington throughout his second term in office, leaders from across Iran’s political spectrum have only recently begun to openly share that position.
A report issued by Iran’s usually hard-line Intelligence Ministry outlining the benefits of negotiation with the United States signaled the establishment’s move toward possible engagement. The shift comes as Israel has repeatedly warned that it may use military force to stop Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. Iran has insisted that its uranium-enrichment program is for peaceful purposes.
The United States also has indicated a willingness for new talks with Iran, either bilaterally or through the diplomatic sextet that includes Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia — the so-called P5-plus-1. But in recent weeks, the Obama administration has hinted that time for negotiations is limited. A U.S. diplomat warned Iran in recent days that it must agree to a dialogue in the next three months on a key issue: Iran’s refusal to account for alleged nuclear weapons research conducted in the past.
“Iran cannot be allowed to indefinitely ignore its obligations,” said Robert Wood, charge d’affaires at the U.S. mission to the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna. “If by March Iran has not begun substantive cooperation with the IAEA,” he said at a meeting Thursday of the U.N. agency’s board of governors, “the United States will work with other board members to pursue appropriate board action.”