The Guardian : Aug. 12 – President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is preparing to confront the US and the UN security council over Iran’s nuclear activities, partly to divert attention from the country’s worsening economic problems, Tehran sources say. The Guardian
Simon Tisdall in Tehran
Diplomats say president will oppose concessions
Hard line diverts attention from worsening economy
President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is preparing to confront the US and the UN security council over Iran’s nuclear activities, partly to divert attention from the country’s worsening economic problems, Tehran sources say.
Iran’s hardline government said it would respond by August 22 to a western compromise package designed to defuse the dispute over its nuclear activities. But diplomatic sources said that while expressing readiness to continue negotiations, Mr Ahmadinejad was opposing concessions on the issue, which has become crucial to maintaining his support following his disputed election victory a year ago.
“People say it’s Ahmadinejad who’s the problem,” a western diplomat said yesterday. “Even the supreme leader [Ayatollah Ali Khamenei”> favours some kind of deal. But this is Ahmadinejad’s flagship issue. People like the way he has stood up to the Americans and he isn’t going to throw that away.”
Leila, a Tehran resident who, like other interviewees, asked not to be identified, said: “If the US had not made such a big thing of the nuclear issue, Ahmadinejad would have been in big trouble by now. He could have been overthrown. He’s achieved nothing in the past year. The economy is very bad. Everyone is poor.”
Ali, a graduate in part-time employment, said it was difficult for young people to find good jobs in a country where two-thirds of the 70 million population are under 30.
“Ahmadinejad promised to do all sorts of things,” he said. “But he hasn’t done anything. He promised to share out the oil revenue. Look at the price of oil now! Where’s all that money going? There’s no economic management in this country. It’s inefficient. It’s corrupt.”
He added: “Ahmadinejad loves all the international attention. He’s making the most of the nuclear issue to distract attention from the failures of the economy.”
A recent poll by US research firm Zogby International and Reader’s Digest, conducted by telephone from outside Iran, found strong public support for the government’s position that Iran has an “inalienable right” to develop nuclear power for peaceful purposes. Sixty-seven percent also agreed with Mr Ahmadinejad that the state of Israel should not exist, with only 9% disagreeing. But 41% said making the economy more efficient was more important than nuclear capabilities or regional issues, with 27% disagreeing.
The economy is coming under increasing public scrutiny despite official controls on newspapers and restricted internet access. An estimated 80% of economic activity is under government control or managed via trusts known as bonyads, often dominated by well-connected clerics.
Critics say US sanctions, which have discouraged foreign investment and technology transfers, cannot be wholly blamed for Iran’s economic backwardness. There are also complaints that taxpayers’ money allegedly being sent to Hizbullah would be better spent at home.
Particular concern is focusing on oil-rich Iran’s lack of refining capacity. It has a petrol shortfall of 30m litres a day, which is made up by expensive imports.
“We need to change the status quo,” the finance minister, Davood Danesh-Jafari, said this week, promising that privatisations ordered in 2004 would be speeded up.