Iran General NewsANALYSIS: Iran vows defiance amid signs of distress

ANALYSIS: Iran vows defiance amid signs of distress

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Iran Focus: By John Hansen
London, Mar. 10 – Senior Iranian officials led by Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei lined up to declare their support for Iran’s defiant stance in its nuclear pursuit in the wake of the decision by the Board of Governors of the International Atomic Energy Agency to refer the Islamic Republic to the Security Council. Iran Focus

By John Hansen

London, Mar. 10 – Senior Iranian officials led by Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei lined up to declare their support for Iran’s defiant stance in its nuclear pursuit in the wake of the decision by the Board of Governors of the International Atomic Energy Agency to refer the Islamic Republic to the Security Council.

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei told a gathering of senior religious figures in Tehran on Thursday that the Islamic Republic would forge ahead with its nuclear program.

“The people and the officials of the Islamic Republic of Iran will strive with more strength than ever before like steel in the face of pressures and plots and… will continue to move in the direction of advanced technologies including nuclear energy”, Khamenei said.

Iran’s hard-line President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad told a rally in western Iran, “Certain powers think that if they sit and organise a [Security Council”> session, they can force the Iranian nation to retreat”. He went on to declare that “the era of bullying is over”.

But the barrage of hard-line statements could not camouflage unmistakable signs of distress and anxiety inside and outside the ruling theocracy as the world body prepared to meet on Iran next week.

“Biggest diplomatic defeat”

“This was the biggest diplomatic defeat the Islamic Republic has ever suffered”, said a despondent Mohsen Aminzadeh, who was deputy foreign minister during the Khatami administration. The former president Mohammad Khatami himself warned that “Iran’s foreign relations are in the throes of a crisis” and that the theocracy faced “great problems in the future”.

“We must not give our opponents excuses to raise international pressure on Iran”, Khatami was quoted as saying by Sharq newspaper.

The influential daily Kayhan slammed “some of the so-called reformers who have become very frightened and very intimidated, as if [Iran’s”> policies would lead to a great calamity immediately descending upon the country”.

The paper sought to reassure Iranians that the risks Iran was facing were worth taking, because “an Iran that possesses nuclear capability would be an unrivalled regional power”.

“One cannot put a price on such an advantage”, the daily concluded.

Despite the defiant statements from hard-line leaders, Iran’s oil minister moved quickly to assure the global market that Iran’s oil exports would continue, even if the Security Council imposed sanctions on Tehran. His comments were at odds with threats from a number of senior officials, including the president, who have hinted at the use of the oil weapon if punitive measures were adopted against Iran.

Growing disarray

The conflicting signals from Tehran suggested that behind a veneer of tough blustering, there was growing disarray within Iran’s theocratic leadership. Tensions within the ruling factions have been exacerbated by widespread public discontent with the direction of the country.

“There are clear indications that people are viewing the government’s handing of the nuclear issue with increasing scepticism”, said Morteza Ghorbani, a political analyst who is based in Dubai and frequently travels to Iran. “The perception that the clerical leaders have made a huge miscalculation in the strategy that they have been pursuing in the past nine months is rapidly gaining grounds. More and more people in taxis, in bus queues, and in offices are asking, what if they bomb us? What if they impose sanctions? And it’s Iran’s rulers who are getting the lion’s share of the blame right now”.

Fariba Javadi, an Iranian-born architect who returned home to Paris this week after a brief stay in Tehran, agrees. “People are afraid to air their views openly, of course, but Iranians have their way of expressing displeasure at the government by making jokes about ‘Ahmaghi-Nejad’ (Ahmagh means stupid in Persian) and ‘clerical enrichment’, referring to rampant corruption among the ruling mullahs”, she said.

Growing anxiety among ordinary Iranians was evident in a spontaneous demonstration against President Ahmadinejad during his visit to the western Iranian city of Khorramabad on Wednesday. As Ahmadinejad was delivering a fiery speech against the West and in defence of the nuclear program, hundreds of young people in the crowd started chanting “lies, lies, lies”, according to eye-witnesses.

“Iranians who call Persian-language radio or television channels based abroad are expressing increasingly negative views on the country’s nuclear program”, according to Mohsen Fazaeli, an Iranian media analyst based in Berlin. “A recent opinion poll published by Farsi-language websites showed that 69 percent of Iranians do not view the country’s nuclear program as a patriotic issue”.

Fears that a worried population could turn its rage on the government have led the Iranian leaders to try to calm the public. The state-controlled media have been trying to assure Iranians that talks of sanctions or military strikes on Iran are merely “bluffs” by the United States and its allies, who, they say, “want us to commit suicide out of fear of death”.

For now, the government has been able to retain its tight control over the population. Analysts warn, however, that as the international community moves towards stronger action to thwart Iran’s nuclear ambitions, the internal situation may unravel yet more surprises.

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