Saturday, April 15, 2006

Not all in Iran Back President's Rhetoric

Ali Akbar Dareini, SeattlePI:
Iran's success in producing enriched uranium for the first time may have increased national pride, but hard-line President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is annoying predecessors by claiming the achievement in his name alone.

And others, including some among the president's supporters, worry his tough rhetoric is intensifying international anxiety over the nuclear program and worsening the country's isolation. READ MORE

On Tuesday, Ahmadinejad announced that Iran successfully enriched uranium using 164 centrifuges, a significant step toward the large-scale production of a material that can be used to fuel nuclear reactors for generating electricity - or to build atomic bombs.

Iran insists it is interested only in the peaceful use of nuclear power, but the United States and others suspect the regime wants to develop weapons and are demanding a halt to enrichment activities.

Since his announcement, Ahmadinejad has been even more defiant in defending his country's decision to press ahead with its nuclear program over the U.N. Security Council's objections.

Ahmadinejad rebuffed a request Thursday by Mohamed ElBaradei, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, that Iran suspend uranium enrichment, saying Tehran will not retreat "one iota."

To those upset by that stance, he said, "Be angry at us and die of this anger."

A day later, he turned up the heat in anti-Israel rhetoric that has brought international condemnation, calling the Jewish state a "rotten, dried tree" that will be annihilated by "one storm." He previously angered many world leaders by calling for Israel to be wiped off the map.

Such talk has some in this conservative Islamic nation concerned.

"The more Ahmadinejad confronts the international community, the more power he may show to his public in the short term but deny Iran a good life among world nations in the long term," said Hossein Salimi, a professor of international relations in Tehran.

For now, it's a minority opinion. The president's tough talk resounds with many Iranians.

"Ahmadinejad is a source of pride for resisting the U.S. and defending Iran's nuclear rights," said Ali Mahmoudi, a regular attendee of Friday prayers in this strongly religious nation.

Still, the president may have alienated potential allies with this enrichment announcement because he didn't cite former Iranian leaders or thank them for their efforts in the program.

"Ahmadinejad spoke as if production of enriched uranium was his work. He didn't mention that it was the outcome of more than two decades of clandestine work by previous governments," said political analyst Saeed Leilaz.

In an apparent show of displeasure, ex-president Hashemi Rafsanjani tried to take some of the glory from Ahmadinejad by announcing the enrichment step several hours ahead of time.

Reformist Mohammad Khatami, who preceded Ahmadinejad as president, publicly reminded Iranians that the nuclear achievement was "the outcome of efforts by competent Iranian scientists, a process that had begun by previous governments."

Even some of Ahmadinejad's supporters are starting to question his tactics.

"Ahmadinejad has forgotten why he won the presidential vote. The needy voted for him because he promised to bring bread to people's homes but nothing good has been done to improve living standards," said Reza Lotfi, a student at Tehran University.

Mansour Ramezanpour, a construction worker, questioned why the government hasn't done more for the weak economy.

"Previously, I went to work four days a week. Now, not more than two days. Recession is everywhere," he said.

But Ahmadinejad appears determined to make the most of the nuclear card to bolster his standing among his people. It was no coincidence that he announced Iran had enriched uranium on April 9 - the date that the United States severed ties with Iran in 1980.

He and other top leaders see the nuclear program as a level to get the United States to recognize Iran as a "big, regional power" and deal with it on that basis.

"The key problem between Iran and the U.S. is that Washington treats Iran as a non-grownup person. The Iranian leadership is very unhappy with this. Tehran wants America to treat Iran as a regional superpower," Leilaz said.

On Wednesday, Ahmadinejad sent a clear message that Iran expected to be treated as a peer.

"Today, our situation has changed completely. We are a nuclear country and speak to others from the position of a nuclear country," he said.