UN move will not be Iran's last blast over nuclear row

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 22 March, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 22 March, 2007, 12:00am

At first the idea seemed no more than the latest in a series of eye-catching publicity gambits. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Iran's firebrand president and scourge of diplomatic language and protocol, demanded the right to put his case to the highest forum of international diplomacy, the UN Security Council.

But now the far-fetched is about to become reality. Mr Ahmadinejad will address a body he has frequently denounced as a tool of American and British imperialism as it considers a resolution proposing fresh sanctions over Iran's suspected nuclear programme.

Mr Ahmadinejad is unlikely to pull his punches. He has already compared Iran's uranium enrichment activities to a train without brakes and has dismissed related UN resolutions as 'pieces of torn paper'.

His hallowed new surroundings are unlikely to bring about a character change. Indeed, there is every danger that a close-up blast of Ahmadinejad rhetoric will have the effect of provoking the council into tough new measures.

The puzzle is, who will the president be speaking for?

That key decisions on Iran's nuclear programme and foreign policy are the exclusive preserve of the country's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, is almost a stock cliche of most analyses of the Islamic republic's inner workings.

Why, then, is Mr Ahmadinejad allowed to continue on his own reckless and controversy-stirring course? A couple of months ago, following the imposition of the first round of UN sanctions against Iran, there were strong signs that Mr Ahmadinejad had been reined in. Influential figures close to Ayattolah Khamenei blamed the president's fiery statements for antagonising the security council when two of its permanent members, China and Russia - both with strong commercial links with Iran - had been expected to act as protectors.

Ayattolah Khamenei seemed to agree. For a time, the president stayed quiet on the nuclear issue. Responding to the criticism, Mr Ahmadinejad told his cabinet that he was merely implementing the supreme leader's nuclear policy.

It seemed like a pretext for a quieter approach by the president. Recently, however, a reassessment appears to have occurred at the highest echelons of Iran's power structure, enabling Mr Ahmadinejad to re-emerge in all his un-diplomatic finery.

The Iranian delegation to New York will include Ali Larijani, secretary of the Supreme National Security Council and the country's chief nuclear negotiator.

Like the president, Mr Larijani is a former revolutionary guard commander and of the same fundamentalist hue. He shares Mr Ahmadinejad's strong anti-western instincts and is a fervent advocate of the nuclear programme.

Crucially, he answers to Ayatollah Khamenei and not the president. So if, as expected, Mr Ahmadinejad goes off with a bang before the security council, it will not necessarily be the Islamic regime's last word on the nuclear issue.