Monday, November 21, 2005

Iran Learns How to Lose Friends and Alienate People

Spiegel Online:
Iran's president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, is toppling opponents to consolidate power and he's called for Israel to be "wiped off the map." Reiterating her support for Israel, Angela Merkel says she'll take a hardline against Tehran if Mahmoud keeps up the madness. READ MORE

He's been in office for less than six months, but Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's modus operandi still seems to be focused on damage creation rather than limitation. Among the highlights of his swashbuckling has been the call for Israel to be "wiped off the map." His recent moves to shed government institutions in order to get rid of political opponents have also raised a few eyebrows. Britain's Guardian reports that Ahmadinejad has been firing deputy ministers in virtually every government department in a bid to consolidate power. The move has been such a shake-up that some critics are describing it as a coup d'etat.

Ahmadinejad's brazenness has even drawn indirect criticism from Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khameinei, who has warned that "irregularities" in government behavior would not be tolerated. Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, the runner up in the election has also been shouting from his soapbox, saying this man must be reined in. "A tendency in Iran is trying to banish competent officials and it is harming the country like a plague," he said. "Our society has been divided into two poles and some people are behaving aggressively."

The new president's aggression bodes poorly for western attempts to broker a deal with Iran over the suspension of its suspected nuclear weapons program. Many fear these talks could get even tougher if Tehran's top brass become politically paralyzed.

In Germany, Angela Merkel of the conservative Christian Democratic Union, who is expected to formally become chancellor on Tuesday, has promised to take a tough stance against Iran. "If Iran questions the right of the Israeli state to exist, as it has done in recent weeks, then no tolerance can be shown. Such a position must be condemned." With her comments, Merkel brought Germany in line with critics of Tehran elsewhere in Europe and in Washington. But don't be mistaken, Germany still backs a diplomatic solution. So far, however, those diplomatic efforts have yielded little more than a constant thumbing of noses on the part of Iranian leaders toward Europe and the United States. Next week, the United Nations will consider whether it should refer Iran to the Security Council over its nuclear program, but Mohamed AlBaradei, head of the International Atomic Energy Agency is still hopeful a deal can be struck.