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Iran’s presidential growl

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The Globe and Mail – Editorial: When Iran’s new President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, is not firing defiant broadsides at Brussels or Washington for seeking to thwart Tehran’s nuclear ambitions, he is busy trying to root out whatever voices of moderation and reform remain in government. It does not
augur well for future relations with Canada, the European Union, the United States and others in the global community that want Iran to start living up to its international obligations.
The Globe and Mail

Editorial

Page A12

When Iran’s new President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, is not firing defiant broadsides at Brussels or Washington for seeking to thwart Tehran’s nuclear ambitions, he is busy trying to root out whatever voices of moderation and reform remain in government. It does not augur well for future relations with Canada, the European Union, the United States and others in the global community that want Iran to start living up to its international obligations.

Earlier this month, Iran resumed uranium conversion at its nuclear plant near Isfahan, in violation of its agreement last year to freeze nuclear activities as part of its negotiations with Britain, France and Germany. The trio, representing the European Union and with the backing of the U.S. administration, had been attempting to come up with a package of trade and economic incentives, coupled with security guarantees, that would entice Iran to permanently abandon plans to process its own nuclear fuel.

Mr. Ahmadinejad would have none of it. He defended the resumption of nuclear work, his first policy move after taking office, on nationalistic grounds. He also repeated assurances that the nuclear development is strictly for peaceful purposes and he lambasted the West for daring to impugn Tehran’s motives. This could not have been unexpected. The issue of nuclear self-reliance plays well politically in Iran, which still feels threatened by the United States and fears depleting its massive oil reserves. It also has the strong backing of the country’s ruling clerics, who control all energy and military policies and who, like the President, remain staunchly anti-Western and virulently anti-American.

If the government refuses to back down, the matter will almost certainly end up in the hands of the United Nations Security Council. That threat deterred the previous government in Tehran and brought it to the bargaining table, but it has apparently not cut any ice with the more confrontational Mr. Ahmadinejad. In a nationally broadcast speech to parliament on Sunday, he declared that instead of adopting “hostile policies” toward Iran and refusing to recognize its legitimate rights, Europeans should be grateful that his country trades with them. “What kind of balance is this? This is cruel and unfair. Our nation will not tolerate such behaviour on the international scene.”

The new President has also shown adispiriting lack of interest in diplomacy or compromise on the domestic front, where he must deal with a faltering economy, high unemployment and growing unrest among students and the poor. During the election campaign, he promised to boost incomes, cut the price of staples, redistribute oil wealth and clean up rampant corruption, much of which stems from the business activities of certain mullahs. He also said he would not tolerate extremists in government.

Yet all but one of the 21 people named to his first cabinet are religious hard-liners with little or no political experience. Most have backgrounds in security and intelligence and three are former members of the Revolutionary Guards, the elite defenders of the revolution, in which Mr. Ahmadinejad himself served as an officer. Even the largely conservative parliament was taken aback by the inexperienced nominees to head such key ministries as culture and the interior. The legislators must still endorse the selections, but this seems a foregone conclusion, as most of the reformers have been swept from the political scene.

It has not been a promising start.

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