Opinion | Columnists

Ahmadinejad looks for confrontation with the US

UN General Assembly to be the stage for Iran's determination to maintain leadership of anti-American thinking

  • By Francis Matthew, Editor at Large
  • Published: 00:00 September 15, 2011
  • Gulf News

Ahmadinejad looks for confrontation with the US
  • Image Credit: Ramachandra Babu/Gulf News

The imminent General Assembly of the United Nations will be dominated by the Palestinian request to have their statehood recognised by the world community, which is likely to gather widespread support as countries from around the world will be want to register their support for the longest running Arab struggle. But the Palestinian proposal has already inspired the most ferocious response from the right-wing Israeli government of Benjamin Netanyahu, which may well get the US to use its veto.

This will expose the US yet again to the charge that it runs its Middle East policy to meet the whims of the Israeli foreign service, and this clash will provide fertile ground for Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to exploit as he goes to his eighth UN General Assembly.

He is certain to use the Palestinian issue as a major part of his speech, as he seeks to strengthen his position as a leader in the Third World, and also to irritate the American administration. No doubt he will also make some slighting reference to the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 terror attacks, which will be certain to gather him strong condemnation across all the US, but he is used to building his position around the world as an anti-American leader.

The Palestinians themselves may not be that enthusiastic about Ahmadinejad's support any more, as the changes in the region led by the Egyptian revolution in the Arab Spring, have offered the Palestinians a much wider support base from Arab popular opinion than seemed possible a year ago.

This new and much more immediate support has started to replace the long distance rhetoric from the Iranians, which even the most radical Palestinian can see is damaging their cause as Ahmadinejad follows his own tactics solely designed to strengthen his public relations in countries that distrust and fear the US.

But Iran has its own issues with the Americans, and the recent International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) report has highlighted several weaknesses in Iran's nuclear programme that Ahmadinejad will not be crowing about in New York.

As Ali Vaez of the Washington-based Federation of American Scientists has pointed out in The Atlantic magazine, despite its public boastful rhetoric, Iran still seems to be struggling with operating its centrifuges. The pace of Iranian uranium refinement has not increased since the last report in May.

Slow progress

In fact, the declining performance of IR-1 machines, which bear the brunt of Iran's enrichment programme, reveals just how slowly progress is coming for Iran. Five years after Ahmadinejad promised to deploy a new generation of indigenous centrifuges, Iran has yet to set up a complete cascade of the new devices.

In addition, despite all the powerful rhetoric from Ahmadinejad about Iran's nuclear programme, he has had to face the grave embarrassment of Iran's only nuclear reactor at Bushehr having to stop operations due to what were described as "technical reasons", just as it was supposed to come on stream and start contributing the Iranian national power grid.

The reactor was shut down in August for technical reasons, according to the recent IAEA report. Dogged by 11 years of delay, the Russian-made reactor was supposed to come online in the last week of August, during the end of Ramadan celebrations. Although it was connected to the grid at low power on September 3, the reactor missed its inauguration date without any explanation, only going online on Monday, operating at 40 per cent capacity, commented Vaez.

The Americans have focused on different parts of the IAEA report, highlighting the sections that reported possible military dimensions of the programme, and Iran's refusal to suspend uranium enrichment activities, as well as the apparent development of better and more sophisticated enrichment technologies.

The tragedy for the Middle East is that neither the Americans nor the Iranians want to find a way out of their direct confrontation over the nuclear issue. It is clear from the IAEA report that the actual technology on the ground is not as well developed as the Iranians have portrayed it, nor nearly as dangerous (from an American perspective).

But neither side wants to take this as a reason to look for a way out, nor is it fertile ground for any intermediary to get involved with, since intermediaries can only work with people who want to find a solution.

Ahmadinejad is not looking for a solution, and therefore has every reason to talk up his country's achievements. This determined aggression is matched by American refusal to consider that enrichment has any place in Iran, despite Iran having every right to enrich under the Non-Proliferation Treaty, although it is required to do it much more transparently than it is doing at present.

The Obama administration does not want to waste its political capital on trying to find a deal with a leader who has been successfully demonised all over the US.

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