Iran vows not to yield as Western leaders split

Posted in Iran | 15-Aug-05 | Author: Nazila Fathi| Source: International Herald Tribune

About 300 Iranian students and supporters of the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, protested Western demands that Iran give up its nuclear program in a rally at the British Embassy in Tehran Sunday.
TEHRAN Iran's new president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, introduced a new conservative cabinet Sunday as the country warned it would not give in to pressure from the West over its nuclear program.

Ahmadinejad choices for the 21-member cabinet provide the first window into the policies that he might pursue over the next four years. He had promised to establish a moderate government that would focus on fair distribution of wealth and eradication of corruption and poverty.

But his candidates are all from conservative backgrounds, and many of them are close to the supreme religious leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. The strongest candidates appeared in the cultural and political sections of the government where they might curb freedoms.

The cabinet announcement came amid conflicting messages from the Western leaders who are struggling to respond effectively to Iran's determination to build its nuclear capabilities.

"I see a military option a high-grade danger," Schröder said in an interview published Sunday by the Bild am Sonntag newspaper. In the interview, cited by The Associated Press, he said he could "certainly rule out that a German government under my leadership would take part in one."

Schroeder's comments came after President George W. Bush warned Friday in an Israeli television interview that "all options are on the table," if diplomacy fails in resolving the conflict over the nuclear program. "The use of force is the last option for any president," Bush said. "You know, we've used force in the recent past to secure our country."

Iranian officials reiterated Sunday that they would not negotiate over the uranium conversion facility which began work last week. The International Atomic Energy Agency backed a resolution last week calling on Iran to freeze the program.

"The Isfahan issue is over," said Muhammad Saidi, deputy head of the Atomic Energy Organization, the state television reported, referring to a nuclear processing facility near the city of Isfahan.

"What is left on the table for discussion is Natanz," he said, referring to a site where Iran can conduct the more sensitive process of uranium enrichment. The process can lead to making nuclear fuel, or if enriched to higher levels, to making nuclear weapons.

"We definitely have plans for Natanz in the near future," he said, without specifying a time frame.

The outgoing foreign ministry spokesman, Hamidreza Assefi, said Iran had plans to resume its enrichment program. But he said that "Europe's behavior will heavily influence the decision."

Nearly 300 Islamist students staged a demonstration outside the British Embassy in downtown Tehran on Sunday. Protesters who bombarded the embassy with stones and tomatoes chanted "Iran must resume enrichment," and called for an attack on the British embassy. London has been involved in drafting the resolution and the nuclear negotiations with Iran.

The United States says Iran is trying to pursue a clandestine program to build nuclear weapons. Iran contends that its program is for peaceful purposes.

Iran rejected a proposal from Britain, Germany and France this month to abandon its enrichment program in return for economic, technological, political and security incentives. In return it resumed work at the Isfahan facility and now risks being taken before the UN Security Council.

Manoochehr Mottaki, who was proposed for the Foreign Ministry on Sunday, is close to conservatives in Parliament where he has criticized the government for negotiations with Europe in the past. He is a former ambassador to Japan and Turkey.

But analysts in Tehran said that he lacked the authority to affect Iran's nuclear or foreign policies, which are decided by the supreme religious leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

"He might come with an agenda to make foreign policy about 10 percent more hard-line," said Nasser Hadian, a professor of political science at Tehran University, adding that "he is not such an extremist."

Many of the other proposed ministers are not well-known, but according to background information carried by the ISNA news agency, they had been members of the Revolutionary Guards.

Three ministers, in the key ministries of Interior, Culture and Intelligence, are well-known extremists. Their nomination for the posts suggests that Ahmadinejad intends to restrict the more social, cultural and political freedoms that were granted under the former president, Mohammad Khatami.

Mostafa Pourmohammadi, nominated for the Interior Ministry, was deputy minister to the former conservative Intelligence Minister Ali Fallahian, who suppressed cultural and political liberties. Pourmohammadi has close ties to the supreme leader.

Hossein Mohsen Ejehei, a cleric proposed for the Intelligence Ministry, is associated with jailing of reformist politicians. Hossein Saffar Harandi, nominated for the Ministry of Culture, pursues conservative policies in his columns in the daily Keyhan.

"This is a cabinet that wants to create terror and fear," said Mostafa Tajzadeh a reformist who was deputy interior minister under Khatami.

"The first message after you hear their names is that political and cultural liberties are going to be restricted," he said. "But it all depends on how political parties can keep society alert."

Ahmadinejad introduced no women in his new cabinet although some conservative women in Parliament were expecting to win cabinet seats.

Khatami had no women in his cabinet but had two women vice-presidents.

Ahmadinejad distanced himself from supporters who had encouraged more aggressive economic action. His candidates for the jobs will not pursue a radical change in the economy, Tajzadeh said.

The candidates need the confidence vote of Parliament which is scheduled for next week. But there is little doubt that the candidates can overcome any objections at Parliament.

"The proposed ministers suggest that there will be a unity within the establishment and with Mr. Khamenei," said Assadollah Athari, a political analyst. "We will not see the kind of disagreements within the establishment that existed under President Khatami."