Iran’s Ahmadinejad Is Weakened, Isolated as He Addresses UN

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has a record of hurling insults at Israel when he addresses world leaders at the UN General Assembly. The Jewish state has reason to expect more of the same today.

In a Sept. 21 interview with ABC News, Ahmadinejad referred to Israel as a “fake regime” whose “oppressive preconditions” to peace talks would doom that nation. In a Sept. 13 interview with the Washington Post, he said it is a “dreadful party, a feared party, the party that was behind the first World War and the second World War.”

Such rhetorical assaults aside, the Iranian leader will walk to the General Assembly lectern at a moment of declining political fortunes at home and increasing isolation in the Muslim world for backing Syria’s violent efforts to crush anti-government protests.

“Ahmadinejad has a lot of energy and he’s a fighter, but his political career seems to be in end-game as the 2013 Iranian presidential elections approach,” Cliff Kupchan, an analyst at New York-based research firm Eurasia Group, said in an interview.

In Iran, Ahmadinejad has appeared to lose a series of power struggles with the ruling clerics, over appointments to his government and lately when Islamic courts temporarily overruled his bid to release the two Americans held on charges of espionage and illegal entry.

‘Clerics Struck Back’

“There was a sense over the past year that he was changing the nature of the regime from one based on clerics to one based on the Revolutionary Guards and security forces.” Jeff Laurenti, a UN analyst at the Century Foundation, a New York-based research group, said in an interview. “Some imagined a kind of quiet coup, but the clerics struck back.”

Ahmadinejad is scheduled to address the UN amid delicate negotiations over the resumption of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks and the danger of renewed violence in the region in the event the Palestinian Authority’s UN membership bid is thwarted.

The timing of the release yesterday of two American hikers, who had been jailed by Iran on spy charges for two years, may be an indication Iran wants to lower tension with the U.S.,” retired U.S. Ambassador William G. Miller said in an interview.

“This is a signal from the Iranians that they’re interested in talking,” said Miller, who was involved in efforts to free the Americans though Search for Common Ground, a Washington-based organization that focuses on conflict resolution.

If so, a new verbal assault on Israel wouldn’t be a move in that direction.

U.S. Walkout

A year ago, the U.S. led a walkout of Western diplomats from the General Assembly to protest Ahmadinejad’s suggestion that the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks may have been orchestrated to “save the Zionist regime.” U.S. President Barack Obama called the remarks “offensive” and “hateful.”

Obama used his speech to the General Assembly yesterday to assail Ahmadinejad’s treatment of anti-government protesters and his defiance of UN Security Council resolutions demanding a halt to Iran’s enrichment of uranium, a process that can lead to development of nuclear weapons.

“In Iran, we have seen a government that refuses to recognize the rights of its own people,” Obama said. On Iran’s disputed nuclear program, he said the government in Tehran “cannot demonstrate that its program is peaceful, has not met its obligations and rejected offers that would provide it with peaceful nuclear power.”

Enemy of Israel

Obama couldn’t legally respond to his own source of domestic political pressure, the demand of Republican presidential candidate Michele Bachmann of Minnesota that the U.S. bar Ahmadinejad from entering the country for the opening of the UN session. The Iranian leader is an “enemy not only of Israel, but also of the United States,” Bachmann said in a statement.

Ahmadinejad’s stalwart support for Syrian President Bashar Assad put him at odds this week with the Arab Parliament, a body set up by the Arab League that asked it to suspend the membership of Syria.

“We think it is very important for others not to interfere,” Ahmadinejad said of the situation in Syria in the Washington Post interview.

On another front, asked for his view of Iran’s shipments of arms to Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip, Palestinian Authority spokesman Nabil Shaath told reporters that no Arab government supports that policy. Iran has angered Saudi Arabia and other Persian Gulf nations, which blame it for stoking regional tensions, particularly among the Shiite majority in Sunni-ruled Bahrain.

Leadership Claim

“He will want to use his UN speech to reassert the Iranian claim to a kind of pan-Muslim leadership and be a player in the Arab world,” said Laurenti. “He has been damaged by the Syrian connection. Iran celebrated the Arab Spring when it toppled American allies and was caught up short when it hit their own favorite ally.”

“His way to re-establish street cred is the Israeli-Palestinian issue,” said Laurenti.

Ahmadinejad also faces pressure from Iran’s ally Russia to resume talks on the nuclear issue with the U.S. and other Western powers. Russia proposed breaking an impasse by rewarding Iran for cooperating more closely with the International Atomic Energy Agency by gradually removing UN sanctions.

Talks between Iran and the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany remain stalled since January. The IAEA has been probing Iran’s nuclear work since 2003, when it was disclosed the government had hidden atomic research for two decades.

While Iran has signaled willingness to consider the Russian proposal, Ahmadinejad hasn’t made any specific commitment and likely will delay doing so to allow further expansion of nuclear facilities, according to Kupchan.

“The Iran-Russia dialogue on the nuclear issue is another attempt to draw Iran into a series of reciprocal concessions,” Kupchan said. “I’ve seen no sign that Iran is prepared to make any concessions; instead, they’ll stick with their game plan of stalling for time.”

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