Score one for the Italians. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the thug par-excellence president of the ayatollahs’ regime in Iran, has been shunned by the Pope and the Prime Minister of Italy. In a humiliating rebuff which demonstrates Tehran’s pariah status abroad, both leaders refused to meet him in Rome, where he arrived on June 3, 2008 to attend the UN’s annual food summit.
Ahmadinejad tried to grab the headlines with another bombastic attack against the United States. In a bid to shift the public relations firestorm over his visit, he told reporters shortly before his departure for Italy that the “satanic powers” of the United States will be “uprooted” and that Israel is “about to die and will soon be erased from the geographical scene.”
He renewed his diatribe upon his arrival in Rome on Tuesday, saying that "Europeans have suffered the biggest damage from the Zionists and today the weight of this artificial regime, both political and economic, is on Europe's shoulders.”
One thing is sure: this Qods Force Commander-turned-president thrives on being the center of attention. Controversy is how he, in a depraved manner, infuses vigor into his increasingly lackluster power base. And that is why he is eager to make these high-profile visits to western countries, such as his annul presence at the UN General Assembly.
Like many demagogues, Ahmadinejad is crazy to grab headlines. He claimed he was bringing solutions to the global food problem. Iran, he says, “as an influential nation in the economy and agriculture, has clear solutions, programs and suggestions for the fair production and distribution of food supply in the world.” Never mind that his regime, despite being flush with unprecedented oil revenues, has failed economically and is directly responsible for widening poverty and hunger in Iran. “Iran can play a decisive role in today's world management.”
His visit was billed as a one-man diplomatic nightmare by the Italian media, and caused an uproar among human rights and political circles in Italy. Italy’s Foreign Ministry said a meeting between Ahmadinejad and Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi would only happen if Ahmadinejad was prepared to retract his comments on Israel and his denial of the Holocaust, as well as ending his regime’s defiance of international demands relevant to Iran’s nuclear program.
Meanwhile media reports from Italy indicate that Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe and Ahmadinejad were excluded from the opening dinner at the UN summit hosted by Prime Minister Berlusconi and Ban Ki-moon, the U.N. Secretary-General.
This latest political humiliation for Tehran and its president comes on the heels of a damning report by the International Atomic Energy Agency released last week on Iran’s nuclear program, and more evidence of international terrorism. As always, Tehran’s outward belligerence is the flip side of its inward suppression; there were also new reports on human rights violations.
On Monday, even Mohamed El Baradei, the see-no-evil, hear no-evil head of the nuclear watchdog agency, had to complain to reporters about Tehran’s continued defiance of its commitments and three UN Security Council resolutions. He said that “Iran has not yet agreed to implement all the transparency measures required to clarify this cluster of allegations and questions," adding that “Iran has not provided the agency with all the access to documents and to individuals requested ... nor provided the substantive explanations required to support its statements.”
The composition of the new Parliament (Majlis) whose new speaker Ali Larijani, is a protégé of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and a former top commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, heralds a strengthening of Tehran’s hard line on the nuclear issue. In his first day on the new job, Larijani drew the regime’s nuclear “red line,” vowing the Majlis will never go along with any deals about enrichment suspension.
Adding to the mix, ABC News released an exclusive report last week that “Senior U.S. officials tell ABC News that in recent months there have been secret contacts between the Iranian government and the leadership of al Qaeda.”
Meanwhile executions continue unabated in Iran. On June 2, three young men, all under 18 at the time of the alleged crimes, were given death sentences. They will join at least 75 juveniles on death row, according to human rights organizations. The New York Times reported from Tehran that Iran’s judiciary has also sentenced to death a Kurdish teacher, Farzad Kamangar, and two other people for political reasons.
Emboldened by the West’s talk about an “updated” incentives package, already rejected by the regime’s Supreme Leader even before its content has been made public, Tehran remains undeterred and defiantly refuses to change its behavior.
The regime does, however, have an Achilles’ heel: its isolation from its own people, who desperately yearn for democratic change. Tehran is worried about the landmark ruling in early May by Britain’s Court of Appeal, ordering the UK government to promptly remove Iran’s main opposition, the People’s Mojahedin Organization (PMOI/MEK) from its blacklist of proscribed organizations. Tehran understands the wide-ranging political and diplomatic implications of this ruling in strengthening the movement for democratic change in Iran.
The UK government obeyed the court ruling and last week laid before Parliament an order for the revocation of the group’s designation.
The UK court ruling marks the end of an era, and Tehran is deeply concerned at the rising specter of ouster from within by the non-nuclear, secular, and democratic resistance movement.
Alireza Jafarzadeh is the author of The Iran Threat: President Ahmadinejad and the Coming Nuclear Crisis (Palgrave: February 2008).
Jafarzadeh has revealed Iran's terrorist network in Iraq and its terror training camps since 2003. He first disclosed the existence of the Natanz uranium enrichment facility and the Arak heavy water facility in August 2002.
Until August 2003, Jafarzadeh acted for a dozen years as the chief congressional liaison and media spokesman for the U.S. representative office of Iran's parliament in exile, the National Council of Resistance of Iran.
Alireza Jafarzadeh, the deputy director of the Washington office of the National Council of Resistance of Iran, is credited with exposing Iranian nuclear sites in Natanz and Arak in 2002, triggering International Atomic Energy Agency inspections. He is the author of "The Iran Threat" (Palgrave MacMillan: 2008). His email is Jafarzadeh@ncrius.org, and is on twitter @A_Jafarzadeh.