Around two years ago recently ousted Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki told Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri that “we have repeatedly invited you to visit Tehran and you have yet to visit, however let me tell you that it takes between five and thirty years to manufacture a Persian carpet…so we are patient.” At the time, Hariri smiled and said “true, but it only takes you five minutes to sell the carpet!” It seems that Mottaki has today understood this golden concept after he was sacked by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad whilst on an official visit to Senegal.
Iran today is not a center of strength so much as it is a center for great internal conflict, and this internal conflict is beginning to be transported outwards as is the norm with all authoritarian regimes that search for legitimacy. However does Ahmadinejad’s removal of Mottaki as Iran’s foreign minister come as a surprise?
Of course not, and we must not rule out Ahmadinejad himself being removed at any time, for it is clear that the power struggle within Iran is still ongoing. It is true that some believe that Ahmadinejad’s position has been strengthened with the removal of Mottaki, however some victories turn into defeats, and the removal of prominent government figures could strengthen the anti-Ahmadinejad front in Tehran, especially as the economic sector there is suffering and the religious figures behind Ahmadinejad do not have a strong or united position. This is not to mention the division in the Iranian street on Ahmadinejad’s presidency, and the recent criticism that he has received from some figures within the Iranian Revolutionary Guard.
When we say that Mottaki being fired is not surprising, there is a simple reason for this, which is that the former Iranian Foreign Minister was supposed to improve the image of a regime that does not emerge from a political crisis without embroiling itself in a worse one. From the nuclear negotiations file to the crisis with its Arab Gulf neighbors – the extent and intensity of this crisis was revealed in the leaked US diplomatic cables – to other crises, the least of which is what happened with regards the smuggled weapons in Nigeria.
Mottaki’s role was to achieve the impossible, just like the role of Tariq Aziz during the Saddam Hussein era. It was up to Mottaki to free his country from political crises and improve its reputation, whilst at the same time Ahmadinejad did not miss an opportunity to provoke a crisis; saying that Iran wanted to wipe Israel off the map, or taking every possible opportunity to talk about attacking the US, or rejecting the issuance of any peaceful statement with regards to the negotiations on Iran’s nuclear program.
Anybody who looks at the period in which Mottaki was Iran’s foreign minister will understand this completely, for example there was the incident when Ahmadinejad said that the elimination of the USA and England from the FIFA World Cup was a punishment for their government’s imposing of economic sanctions upon Tehran. These are not the words of a seasoned politician, but rather a statement that you might expect to hear whilst sitting in a coffee-shop.
Whilst it is true that Mottaki never smoked a cigar in front of the cameras in the same manner that Tariq Aziz did, he may want to try this today. As for us, our role is to monitor what is being said from inside Iran, for it seems that these days are full of surprises, and nobody can know what is going to happen there and whether this change will be positive or negative.