News / Middle East

    Weakened at Home, Iranian President Heads to UN

    Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (file photo
    Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (file photo
    Laurel BowmanCarla Babb

    Potentially weakened politically at home by a power struggle, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad heads for New York this week for the annual U.N. General Assembly.  Ahmadinejad was hoping to gain some international approval with the freeing of two U.S. hikers jailed in Tehran for spying, but that plan hit a snag as his opponents in the judiciary blocked the release.  Here is our preview of the Iranian president's appearance on the world stage.

    The back and forth over the release of American hikers Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal is the result of what analysts call a political struggle among Iran's ruling conservatives.  They say this political infighting will carry over to Mr. Ahmadinejad's appearance before the U.N. General Assembly later this week.  Jon Alterman is with the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

    “Iranian politics is a contact sport," said Alterman. "And what Ahmadinejad has been trying to do is increase his power in Iranian politics. But what has been happening in fact is that Ahmadinejad is getting weaker in Iranian politics by getting slapped down so forcefully and so quickly by the judiciary.”

    Ahmadinejad is known for his grandiose gestures and sometimes audacious comments during his U.N. appearances.
    At this United Nations summit in 2010, a defiant Ahmadinejad said liberal capitalism faces sure defeat.  

    “The undemocratic and unjust governance structures of the decision-making bodies, regarding international economic and political issues, are the roots of the problems humanity is confronting today," said Ahmadinejad.

    But at other times, Mr. Ahmadinejad has used international appearances to portray a softer side. Patrick Clawson is with the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

    “Ahmadinejad wants to come to New York looking like he is the reasonable person and that Iran is a good international actor," said Clawson. "He may have some complicated maneuverings here that by making the offer he looks reasonable to the world, and he manages to make his domestic opponents in Iran look like they are the hardliners and so he says to foreigners, ‘See?  I am the reasonable one.’”

    Anthony Cordesman, also with the Center for Strategic and International Studies, does not expect big announcements on policy change from the the Iranian president.

    “Are we going to see any nuclear change?  No.  Are we going to see any movement toward reform in Iran?  No," said Cordesman.

    But analysts say Mr. Ahmadinejad can be expected to attack the West - in hopes of  to gaining some political leverage at home.

    “Everything he does seems spontaneous, but everything he does is deeply calculated, not to make friends but to advance his own political interests," said  Jon Alterman.

    Parliamentary elections are scheduled for next year in Iran, with presidential elections set for 2013.


    Carla Babb

    Carla is VOA's Pentagon correspondent covering defense and international security issues. Her datelines include Ukraine, Turkey, Pakistan, Korea, Japan and Egypt.

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