The Economist has a very interesting article on the recent resignation of Dr. Ali Larijani, secretary of Iran’s High Council of National Security.
President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad tightens his grip on Iran
The Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, has further strengthened his position within Iran's multipolar political system by effecting the removal of Ali Larijani, one of his most potent rivals, from the position as head of the Supreme National Security Council, which includes leading the team negotiating on matters relating to Iran's nuclear programme. In a similar fashion to the recent dismissals of the oil minister and the governor of Bank Markazi (the central bank), Mr Ahmadinejad has replaced relatively independent figures with his own men—in this case Saeed Jalili, a deputy foreign minister known to be a close associate of the president. The increased input of Mr Ahmadinejad appears likely to increase the risk of confrontation over the nuclear issue, as it will further restrict the space available for negotiation…. Read More.
Mr Larijani has been at odds with the Iranian president for some time, and is reported to have submitted his resignation on several previous occasions, complaining that Mr Ahmadinejad's uncompromising and adversarial stance towards the West has left Iran with precious little room to manoeuvre in its negotiations on the nuclear issue. Hitherto, Mr Larijani has been able to count on the support of the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, to secure his position.
However, on this occasion it seems that he had left himself open to a claim from Mr Ahmadinejad that he had misrepresented the position of the supreme leader on the nuclear question. Mr Larijani said that the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, had made fresh proposals on resolving the nuclear dispute during a meeting in Tehran with Ayatollah Khamenei—Mr Putin was in Iran in mid-October for a summit conference of Caspian littoral states. This prompted speculation that Mr Putin may have suggested a suspension of sanctions on Iran in return for Iran agreeing to suspend uranium enrichment, thereby creating a positive atmosphere for fresh negotiations about the future of the programme. However, Mr Ahmadinejad immediately poured cold water over this, stating that the supreme leader had made clear to the Russian president that Iran's nuclear programme—which he emphasised was devoted entirely to civilian ends—was irrevocable, and that no new proposals had been discussed. Barring a statement from Ayatollah Khamenei contradicting Mr Ahmadinejad, which would have risked igniting a constitutional crisis, Mr Larijani's position appeared to be untenable.
No soft touch
Mr Larijani, who was appointed to the Naitonal Security Council post after Mr Ahmadinejad was elected president in 2005, had initially been dismissive of the approach of his predecessor, Hassan Rawhani, who had agreed to a two-year suspension of the nuclear programme during negotiations with a team of three UE member states about how to create effective guarantees against the development of nuclear weapons in Iran. Mr Larijani maintained that Iran had offered major concessions and had received nothing in return. Mr Larijani has nevertheless succeeded in keeping negotiations alive, and has come to be viewed as a valuable interlocutor by both Mohammed ElBaradei, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), and by Javier Solana, the EU foreign affairs commissioner, both of whom have made clear that they would regard a breakdown in negotiations and a slide towards military conflict as a catastrophic outcome. After the UN Security Council passed two resolutions imposing sanctions on Iran, Mr Larijani, succeeded in winning more time for Iran by agreeing with the IAEA to enact a work plan to clear up unresolved questions has, in effect, put the process of building up diplomatic and economic pressure on Iran on hold. Much will now depend on what answers the IAEA will be able to extract.
The IAEA has pledged to Iran that the questions that it is posing as part of the work plan cover all areas of concern, implying that if it receives satisfactory answers it will be able to declare that adequate safeguards are in place to guarantee the exclusively peaceful nature of Iran's nuclear programme. The IAEA has, moreover, stated that it has been able to verify that no declared nuclear materials have been diverted at the enrichment plant, and that it has concluded that this facility remains in peaceful use. However, the IAEA has also emphasised that, even if it obtains satisfactory answers to all its questions about the history and the current nature of Iran's nuclear programme in a timely and comprehensive manner, it will still seek assurances "regarding the absence of undeclared activities"—in other words to establish that there is no covert parallel programme underway. This can only be achieved through the kind of inspections that would be authorised under the Additional Protocol of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). Iran has yet to ratify this protocol.
If the IAEA comes out with a broadly positive assessment of the work plan, Iran is not necessarily in the clear, given its failure to adhere to the Security Council's demand that it suspend enrichment and owing to the continued concerns of the Vienna-based agency about the possibility of undeclared nuclear activities. That suggests that a further tightening of sanctions is in prospect. France, in particular, has pressed the case for ramping up the pressure on Iran, in part so as to persuade the US of the potential of economic and diplomatic pressure to extract concessions, and thereby warding off the resort to military means.
The departure of Mr Larijani at this critical moment in the IAEA discussions, and just days ahead of a scheduled meeting between him and Mr Solana does not bode well for the chances of a compromise. Mr Jalili has not previously served on the National Security Council, and he has not taken part in the negotiations with the IAEA or with the EU commissioner. The manner of his appointment suggests that his role is to follow the instructions of Mr Ahmadinejad to the letter, and the Iranian president has thus far not shown any sign of flexibility on the nuclear question.
As for Mr Larijani, he can be expected to bide his time until the next presidential election, in the hope that he can perform better against Mr Ahmadinejad than he did as a candidate in 2005.