Tehran's domestic and foreign impasse

By Ali Safavi

Ahmadinejad on Iran nuclear issue: No brakes and no turning back

Since the adoption of Resolution 1747 by the UN Security Council imposing harsher sanctions against the Iranian regime, signs are emerging that the mullahs are feeling the heat. Earlier this week, the former President and head of the powerful State Expediency Council Ali-Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani warned of the precarious situation with which Tehran is faced.

He urged rival factions to maintain unity, adding, "The issue of the use of nuclear energy is a serious and real problem between the Islamic Republic and our interlocutors, especially those in the West," according to the state news agency IRNA on April 15.

Rafsanjani's concerns are not without reason. Aside from the resolution, the past few days have seen several significant political developments pointing to further isolation of the ruling theocracy.

The European Union agreed that it should toughen up sanctions. Reuters reported on April 17 that EU member states were preparing to impose harsher sanctions against the Iranian regime.

The same day, France, Germany and Italy slashed the jurisdiction of Iran’s state-owned Sepah Bank. A source within the Tehran regime said, "By dismissing the chiefs of Sepah Bank branches in their countries and appointing European chiefs, France, Germany and Italy practically wrested authority in running these branches from the Iranian side." In this regard, the French daily Le Monde wrote on April 17 that the French Cabinet had decided to freeze all dealings of Sepah Bank with firms outside France. Under European banking laws, the host country can appoint and dismiss the heads of foreign banks.)

The same week, the three main presidential hopefuls in France called for further sanctions against Tehran. France's main nuclear firm, Areva, dismissed the possibility of building new nuclear facilities for Tehran. Simultaneously, Russia announced that work on Iran’s Bushehr nuclear plant would not be completed in 2007 as previously expected. Russia's National Security Council Secretary Igor Ivanov said, "Obviously, the start-up of Bushehr nuclear plant originally scheduled for September must be postponed." Despite the face-saving assertion of technical glitches, the delay is clearly because of Tehran's financial problems as well as the effects of international relations on Moscow-Tehran ties. At the same time, two key Russian ministers refused to meet Deputy Interior Minister Brig. Gen. Mohammad-Baqer Zolqadr who was in Moscow despite his name appearing in Resolution 1747’s annex of banned individuals.

The clerical regime's exaggeration of the significance of Zolqadr's trip reflected the feeble position of the regime, which has found itself in dire need of such propaganda to put a lid on brewing internal crises.

These efforts, however, have only short-term effect and exacerbate the internal crises in the long-run. The Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei's representative in the daily Kayhan and firebrand ideologue, Hossein Shariatmadari, acknowledged, "Our nuclear file is not an isolated case. This file has been entangled with dozens of our other files in the Middle East, including in Bahrain, Iraq, Lebanon, Palestine and Yemen."

In other words, the mullahs fear that any retreat on the nuclear file would put the international community in a position to squeeze them on a host of other outstanding issues, including their meddling in Iraq and fundamentalist transgressions in Lebanon and elsewhere. This explains why the leadership in Tehran is extremely concerned about what may lie ahead.