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June 4, 2006
Ahmadinejad: I've Got A Secret

Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has decided to publicly release the package offered by Western nations for an end to Teheran's uranium-enrichment program. Brushing off a warning from Kofi Annan, Ahmadinejad says he wants his people to remain fully informed of the situation:

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said Saturday that Iran would publish details of the package of incentives and possible penalties prepared by the United States and five other major powers aimed at halting Iran's nuclear program.

In a speech in which he warned Iran's critics against "threats and intimidation," Ahmadinejad seemed to sweep aside a request by U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan to keep the process confidential. Western diplomats had said they were trying to avoid the appearance of threatening Iran by keeping the terms of the package as private as possible, especially the specific penalties Iran might face if it continues to enrich uranium.

"We will record the talks and we will publish them at the appropriate time, so our people will be informed about the details," Ahmadinejad said in his first speech since the package was agreed upon by the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council and Germany.

Addressing a crowd of government loyalists at the tomb of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the founder of Iran's theocratic state, Ahmadinejad said Iran would not prejudge the offer from the United States and the other countries. But he reiterated Iran's refusal to cease enriching uranium as a condition for formal negotiations, saying, "The Iranian nation's right to nuclear technology and power is legal and definite, and we will not talk about these issues."

Some commentators wondered whether the package contained any sticks to go along with the carrots at all, as Russia and China have continually said that they believe sanctions of any kind were "premature" at this stage. This threat implies that the package does specify some negative consequences for Iranian obstinacy. If so, then Ahmadinejad's action will surely embarrass his putative allies in this issue. Russian and Chinese promises of sanctions would expose their diplomats as disingenuous to the Iranian people.

On the other hand, although it is difficult to assume that Ahmadinejad is a rational actor, this would seem to cut off his nose to spite his face. Why antagonize Russia and China, when they are all that separates Iran from a backbreaking sanctions regime? Let's return to that in a moment.

The other option is that the package contains absolutely no sticks whatsoever. Ahmadinejad might delight in exposing this to his people to show that Uncle Satan Sam has no teeth at all. Such humiliation would play well with the hardliners and could demoralize the democracy activists. It would also anger the US once we found out that we offered direct talks and a light-water reactor while specifying no consequences for refusal. The Bush administration might get flak from both right and left, further weakening his flexibility on Iran.

And here's where both ends meet. If Ahmadinejad wants to humiliate Russia and China, then the West will finally be able to get tough on Iran, through the UN Security Council in all likelihood. If Ahmadinejad wants to humiliate Bush, the political fallout from such a move would almost ensure that America will have to toughen its stance, bringing an end to any diplomatic rapprochement. Both cases almost ensure some kind of severe diplomatic break.

As I have written before -- that's exactly what Ahmadinejad wants. He is neither rational nor irrational, but non-rational. His messianic strain of Shi'ism drives him to believe in a world catastrophe in which the Twelfth Imam will arise and take control of the entire world. Everything Ahmadinejad does is completely understandable in this context. His efforts to derive nuclear material for a bomb is the most public of his efforts to create explosions of every kind, and to put Iran in the center of the maelstrom. He's planning for Islam's transcendancy, not in a strictly corporeal sense but in a spiritual sense as well.

In poker terms, this man is all in for the pot. And it has become increasingly clear that he isn't bluffing for the final hand.

Sphere It Digg! View blog reactions
Posted by Ed Morrissey at June 4, 2006 9:30 AM

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