Jun 12, 2008


Kamal Nazer Yasin 6/10/08

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As US President George W. Bush lobbies European Union leaders for tighter economic sanction against Iran, conservative elements in Tehran are taking steps to moderate the behavior of Iranian leader Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Bush was in Slovenia on June 10 for a summit meeting with EU leaders. A variety of media outlets reported that the United States and EU were in agreement that economic sanctions against Iran needed to be strengthened unless Tehran took verifiable action to halt its uranium enrichment activities. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive]. The EU’s foreign policy chief, Javier Solana, was expected to travel to Tehran later this week or early next week for another round of talks aimed at getting Iran to cooperate with the West on the nuclear issue.

While the nuclear program remains a priority concern for members of the governing elite in Iran, their attention is also focused on domestic politics, given that a presidential election is looming in 2009. Concern is mounting among various conservative factions in Tehran that Ahmadinejad’s confrontational approach to international politics, combined with his thorough mismanagement of the economy, is undermining the traditionalists’ hold on power. While many continue to view Ahmadinejad as the man who can best unite key conservative constituencies -- militant nationalists and Islamic pietists -- traditionalists want to place greater restraints on Ahmadinejad, hoping that he becomes a less divisive figure in Iranian politics.

In recent months, Ahmadinejad has exhibited a penchant for extreme partisanship in the domestic political arena, with his neo-conservative faction showing less and less interest in cooperating with other conservative factions on major policy decisions. Members of the government who have not remained in lock-step with his political agenda have been forced out. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive].

The leaders of other traditionalist factions fear that a continuation of Ahmadinejad’s intolerant political course could leave the conservative movement divided during an election year, thus increasing the odds that reformists could regain the presidency in 2009.

The clearest indicator of mounting conservative unease about Ahmadinejad was the election of Ali Larijani as the speaker of parliament. Larijani, who formerly served as Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator, is a representative of what some experts in Tehran have dubbed the New Technocrat faction, which is philosophically conservative and pragmatic in its approach to politics. The New Technocrats -- as opposed to the Old Technocrats, who are now mostly allied to the reformists -- generally have a strong connection to the Revolutionary Guards, as do Ahmadinejad and his neo-conservative allies. In addition to Larijani, prominent New Technocrat leaders include the former head of the Revolutionary Guards, Mohsen Rezaii, and the current Tehran mayor, Mohammed Bagher Ghalibaf.

Larijani and Ahmadinejad are believed to despise each other, .............

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