Last week, Iran’s nuclear negotiator, Ali Larijani, resigned his post due to a complete inability to work with President Mahmud Ahmadinejad. This alone is terrible news for those seeking a peaceful resolution to the nuclear standoff. While Larijani is not considered a reformer and is indeed among the more conservative officials in the government, he is very pragmatic and firmly believed that the best resolution was through negotiation. To lose a person like this in the negotiations is quite detrimental. (Contrary to American belief, not all Iranian officials are nuts like Mahmud.)
To compound the problem is the person chosen to replace Larijani, Said Jalali. Jalali is a close ally to Ahmadinejad; perhaps even considered a right hand man. He fully supports Mahmud’s hard line stance on the nuclear program; intending to pursue it regardless of the cares of the outside world. Currently, Jalali is saying all the right things; fully intending to cooperate with the IAEA and international community to find a diplomatic solution. However, if indeed he is from the Ahmadinejad school of diplomacy, he will say one thing and do the opposite.
In Ahmadinejad’s administration there have been two camps of Iranian political power; the Ahmadinejad wing and the Larijani wing. The latter, while still conservative, is much more pragmatic and really wielded the true power in Iran. Included in this wing are such prominent Iranian politicians as former President Rafsanjani and Hassan Ruhani, Iran’s National Security Advisor. In between these two camps is Ayatollah Khamenai, occasionally siding with the hardliners and occasionally with the pragmatists. Sadly, now it looks as if he has committed to Ahmadinejad and his ilk; indeed there is now a consolidation of power around the President.
The thing most American’s (including the President of Columbia University) failed to realize about the Iranian government is that the President is really just a figurehead. He has limited real power. He has no right to dictate foreign policy or be involved in internal affairs. His is primarily domestic authority, of which most decisions have to be ratified by the Council of Experts and the Ayatollah. So for people in America to have been so afraid of Ahmadinejad and for the President of one of America’s most prestigious universities to call him a dictator, was really ignorant and reflected poorly on us as a people. However, now there is reason to fear, not because of Ahmadinejad per se, but because the Ayatollah seems to have completely joined his camp, and the Ayatollah is the true arbiter of Iranian power and foreign policy. The chance for a peaceful resolution to the nuclear crisis has diminished extensively.