Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Cracks in the Iranian facade

Iran's hard-line stance on its nuclear program is producing some domestic dissent.

Some people in powerful positions have begun to insist that the confrontational tactics of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad have been backfiring, making it harder instead of easier for Iran to develop a nuclear program.

This week, the United Nations Security Council is meeting to take up the Iranian nuclear program. That referral and, perhaps more important, Iran's inability so far to win Russia's unequivocal support for its plans have empowered critics of Mr. Ahmadinejad, according to political analysts with close ties to the government.

One senior Iranian official, who asked to remain anonymous because of the delicate nature of the issue, said: "I tell you, if what they were doing was working, we would say, 'Good.' " But, he added: "For 27 years after the revolution, America wanted to get Iran to the Security Council and America failed. In less than six months, Ahmadinejad did that."

It remains to be seen whether the opposition has any actual teeth, especially with Iran's top cleric, Ali Khamenei, supporting the hardline approach.

In the end it may require a very delicate diplomatic approach from us: keeping the pressure ratcheted up sufficiently high that we reward neither delaying tactics nor the hard-line approach, but not so high that we push the reformers into a united front with the hardliners.

With luck we can avoid the need for my earlier suggestion.


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