Thursday, March 16, 2006

Cracks Appear In Iran's Unity On Nuclear Program

Just weeks ago, the Iranian government's combative approach toward building a nuclear program produced rare public displays of unity here. Today, while the top leaders remain resolute in their course, cracks are opening both inside and outside the circles of power over the issue. Some people in powerful positions have begun to insist that the confrontational tactics of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad are backfiring, making it harder instead of easier for Iran to develop a nuclear program.
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad
This week, the U.N. Security Council is meeting to take up Iran's nuclear program. That referral, and, perhaps more importantly, Iran's inability so far to win Russia's unequivocal support for its plans, have empowered critics of Ahmadinejad, according to political analysts with close ties to the government. On Tuesday, both Ahmadinejad and the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, insisted in public speeches that their country would never back down. At the same time, Iranian negotiators arrived in Moscow to resume talks — at Iran's request — just days after Iran had rejected a Russian proposal to resolve the standoff. Average Iranians seem less uniformly confident at the prospect of being hit with U.N. sanctions. Reformers, whose political clout as a movement vanished after the last election, have also begun to speak out. And people with close ties to the government said high-ranking clerics have begun to give critical assessments of Iran's position to Khamenei, which the political elite sees as a seismic jolt. Former President Muhammad Khatami recently publicly criticized the aggressive approach and called a return to his government's strategy of confidence building with the west. “The previous team now feels they were vindicated,” said Nasser Hadian, a political science professor at Tehran University. “The new team feels they have to justify their actions.”