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Ahmadinejad under pressure at home over UN sanctions

19 January 2007 [01:00] - TODAY.AZ
President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is coming under pressure on several fronts at home, just a month after the United Nations Security Council imposed its first sanctions on Iran to curb its nuclear program.

Members of the Iranian Parliament criticized the president in two documents this week for his handling of the nuclear crisis and the faltering economy.

Last week two hard-line newspapers criticized Ahmadinejad for his comments about the country's nuclear program, saying he had complicated the matter.

Although the sanctions imposed by the Security Council on Dec. 23 concerned the Iranian nuclear program, they had begun to affect the economy.

About 50 legislators signed a letter this week calling on the president to appear before Parliament to answer questions about the nuclear case. But 72 signatures are needed to mandate an appearance.

In another letter, 150 lawmakers criticized the president for policies that have led to a surge in inflation and for failing to hand in his annual budget on time.

The two newspapers that ran editorials criticizing Ahmadinejad belong to the most senior figures handling the nuclear case: One is run by an aide to Iran's chief nuclear negotiator, Ali Larijani; the other belongs to the supreme religious leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has the final word on state matters.

The editorials directly called on the president to refrain from involvement in the nuclear issue.

Ahmadinejad has brushed off the UN resolution as "a piece of torn paper," and during trips to the provinces he has vowed to expand the nuclear program.

The daily Hamshahri, run by the Larijani aide, wrote that Ahmadinejad's defiant rhetoric undermined the efforts of negotiators when they were close to ending the crisis.

The daily Jomhouri Elsami, which belongs to Khamenei, said the nuclear case required its own diplomacy requiring "sometimes toughness and sometimes flexibility."

"The resolution is certainly harmful for the country," the paper said, adding that it is "too much to call it a piece of torn paper."

The local stock market, which was already in a slump, has fallen further in the past month.

The daily Kargozaran reported last week that trading had slumped since the UN resolution was passed.

"The resolution has had a psychological effect on people," said Ali Hagh, an economist in Tehran.

"It does not make sense for investors not to consider political events when they want to invest their money."

Kargozaran reported that a group of powerful businessmen, known as the Islamic Coalition Party, met with Mohammad Nahavandian, a senior official at the Supreme National Security Council and called for moderation in the country's nuclear policies to prevent further damage to the economy.

About eight large European banks have severed their business ties with Iran. Economists say that this will lead to worse inflation because importers will have to develop complicated ways to finance their purchases.

Other concerns were raised on the radio program Radio Goftegoo this month. Sadeq Zibakalam, a speaker on the program, warned that the resolution might be the first of many resolutions that could precede a military operation against Iran.

A raid by the American forces in Iraq on an Iranian consulate in Erbil last week alarmed authorities here.

"The nuclear issue has paved the way for other forms of pressures on Iran," said Ahmad Shirzad, a reformist politician and a former member of Parliament.

"The resolution has decreased Iran's political credibility in the international community," he added.

Despite the harsh language of Ahmadinejad against the resolution, Khamenei has not referred to the resolution directly and has only once said that Iran will not give up its claimed right to develop nuclear power.

Larijani has said that Iran would not quit the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, nor would it bar International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors, despite earlier threats to do so.

"There is room for compromise but it won't happen at the moment," said one Western diplomat. "We are still a long way to see a change in the policy."

Analysts say that Iran can bear up under the sanctions as long as the price of oil is not subject to further weakness.

The government wants "to minimize the consequences of sanctions now that they have been imposed," said Mohammad Atrianfar, the former head of the prominent paper Shargh and a reformist politician. "But they don't have clear strategy, and they are taking one step at a time."

The head of the UN nuclear monitoring agency said Thursday he was concerned that the UN sanctions on Iran could escalate the standoff with the U.S. and its European allies, The Associated Press reported from Paris.

The director of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Mohamed ElBaradei, speaking in Paris, called for a resumption of negotiations with Iran, which the United States accuses of seeking to develop nuclear weapons.

Applying pressure on its own, he suggested, could prompt the Islamic republic to follow the path of North Korea, which kicked out UN inspectors and pulled out of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty in 2003 and then conducted its first nuclear weapons test last October.

"My priority is to keep Iran inside the system," said ElBaradei, the winner of the 2005 Nobel Peace Prize.

"My worry right now is that each side is sticking to its guns," he said. The international community, he said, "is saying 'sanctions or bust.' Iran is saying 'nuclear enrichment capability or bust,' and we need somebody to reach out and be able to find a solution."

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, said this week in Europe that now was not the time for the United States to talk to Iran and that Iran appeared unready to accept a conditional offer by the United States to join European talks over its nuclear program. The International Herald Tribune


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