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Ahmadinejad passes the buck on nuclear approach - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad talks during a news conference at the end of his visit to Cairo, February 7, 2013. (REUTERS/Asmaa Waguih)

Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad talks during a news conference at the end of his visit to Cairo, on February 7, 2013. (REUTERS/Asmaa Waguih)

London, Asharq Al-Awsat—Outgoing president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has reacted to a series of revelations about his destructive impact on Iran’s nuclear file by stressing that he is not responsible for this approach, according to the ISNA news agency.

Ahmadinejad’s quick response to the criticisms leveled at him during the third and final live presidential debate on Friday can be seen as shifting the blame towards the supreme guide, Ayatollah Khamenei.

In the last televised debate between presidential candidates, former chief nuclear negotiator Hassan Rouhani and former foreign minister Ali Akbar Velayati lambasted Ahmadinejad’s government track record and attitude towards Iran’s nuclear file.

Velayati revealed that his authorized efforts to strike a deal with then-French president Nicolas Sarkozy were sabotaged by “a senior government official” who had previously granted his consent, before and during negotiations with the French president.

Although Velayati did not mention Ahmadinejad by name, it was clear that this was a tacit reference to the outgoing president.

Less than 24 hours after the debate, Ahmadinejad rebuffed the criticisms leveled at him as being irrelevant, saying he had never been in charge of the nuclear negotiations and that this issue did not fall under his purview, in an implicit reference to Supreme Guide Ayatollah Khamenei who holds supreme power in Iran.

No decision can be made regarding Iran’s nuclear file without Ayatollah Khamenei’s approval.

Friday’s live television debate focused on political topics. The debate had initially been expected to focus on domestic and factional politics, but the talk mainly focused on the current administration’s flawed handling of Iran’s nuclear negotiations.

Ahmadinejad and his negative influence on the nuclear negotiations became the focal point of the debate, placing Rouhani and Velayati in the same camp in terms of rejecting the performance of Ahmadinejad, and, more importantly, their electoral rival, Saeed Jalili.

The harsh economic conditions being faced by the majority of the population and the suppressive political environment for activists and university students were expected to be the focal point of the debate, not the nuclear issue.

This open discussion of the contentious nuclear issue, which had previously been viewed as a sacrosanct symbol of national pride over the past decade, represents an important shift and hints at a possible new approach in future negotiations.

Saeed Jalili, who has taken a leave of absence from his position as Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator to run in the Iranian presidential elections, was cornered not only by reformist and moderate candidates Rouhani and Mohammad Reza Aref but also conservative candidates Velayati and Mohsen Rezaei.

This accord between the moderate/reformist camp and the conservative faction over the failures of Iran’s nuclear strategy can be seen as a softening in the supreme leader’s stance.

It appears that Saeed Jalili, a hardliner presidential candidate who joined the race at the last minute expecting a boost from his nuclear credentials, could find himself in an awkward situation of changing Iran’s nuclear approach if he is elected.

This is a negative sign for Jalili, whose candidacy is being viewed by many middle-class voters as a continuation of current nuclear policies, which in turn may encourage disenchanted voters to go to the polls to counteract his guaranteed hardline vote.

At the same time, Jalili’s approach and policies are being openly condemned by other candidates, including Velayati—who is very close to Ayatollah Khamenei—demonstrating two things. One is a limited, but significant, thawing of Iran’s entrenched nuclear stance. The other is that this could see Jalili being used as a catalyst to attract anti-status quo voters to turn up to the polls.

For Ayatollah Khamenei, securing maximum participation in the forthcoming June 14 election is much more important than the velocity at which the centrifuges in the Natanz or Fardo nuclear plants spin.