Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Hard Times for Ahmadinejad

Ilan Berman, AFPC:
A year after his unexpected election to the Iranian presidency, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is weathering growing domestic discontent with his rule. A new analysis by a leading Iranian reformist daily points out that, despite campaigning on a populist anti-corruption platform, Ahmadinejad has failed to make good on his pre-election promises of economic prosperity. Instead, skyrocketing unemployment (more than 100,000 jobs lost since March) and mounting concerns about rising inflation, currently at some 17 percent, have begun to diminish the president's popular appeal.

But Ahmadinejad's problems are not simply economic. The Iranian president's hard-line rhetoric has increasingly alienated potential allies from across the country's political spectrum, while his clampdown on the media and culture has led to diminishing support for his government among ordinary Iranians. "On the whole," the Tehran daily concludes, "the situation has not advanced as the Conservatives predicted, and every day we are witnessing the decline in the popularity of the ninth government." (Tehran Mardom Salari, June 20, 2006) READ MORE


Officially, the Iranian government may still be mulling over the nuclear deal recently proffered by the United States and the European Union. Quietly, however, Iranian leaders are preparing for the diplomatic negotiations to break down - and moving to minimize their regime's economic vulnerabilities. Iran's parliament, or majles, has just approved a new fiscal budget containing a series of measures designed to deny the West economic leverage over Iranian behavior. Under the new economic plan, the Iranian government will shortly begin slashing subsidies on gasoline imports, currently a major economic vulnerability, and institute rationing for domestic gasoline consumption beginning in September. The initiative also envisions a halt to imports of refined petroleum products from abroad - which now make up nearly 40 percent of Iran's total annual consumption of more than 54.5 million liters - starting this fall. (Reuters, June 23, 2006; London BBC, June 23, 2006)


With international pressure mounting over its nuclear program, the Iranian government is kicking its diplomatic reshuffle into high gear. In coming weeks, Tehran is expected to dispatch new envoys to London and Paris as part of an initiative begun last fall to bring the Islamic Republic's foreign service more in line with the policies of president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Iran's ambassadors to Germany, Malaysia and the United Nations mission in Geneva are also expected to be swapped in short order. In all, according to Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza-Asefi, some sixty to seventy ambassadors are expected to be replaced as part of the purge.

For now, replacements for the ousted envoys are expected to come from Iran's diplomatic corps. But the Pasdaran, Iran's powerful clerical army, has made clear that if the new emissaries do not toe the regime's revolutionary line, it is both ready and willing to intervene. We have "military relations with many countries, and those who want to stand against tyranny in the world follow our model," says Pasdaran spokesman Seyyed Ahmad Moheiddin Morshedi. "Our models [already] significantly influence the revolutionary movements of Lebanon, Palestine, Iraq, and Afghanistan." (Radio Free Europe, June 19, 2006)


Iran is moving to upgrade its diplomatic and military ties to the Republic of Tajikistan. In early June, Major-General Yahya Rahim Safavi, the Commander in Chief of Iran's Pasdaran, met in Tehran with the commander of Tajikistan's border guards, Seyed Amir Zohourev. The meeting yielded a sweeping commitment on the part of the Islamic Republic to enhance political, economic and defense coordination with the former Soviet state - and to upgrade cooperation between the two countries in the fields of counterterrorism and combating drug trafficking. (Tehran FARS, June 13, 2006)