10/24/2007, 00.00
IRAN
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Power struggle between Ahmadinejad and Khamenei on the horizon

Iran’s president is criticised for accepting the resignation of Iran’s top nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani, a close ally of Ayatollah Khamenei. Former President Khatami criticises the government for concealing the real inflation rate, now standing at 22.4 per cent.

Tehran (AsiaNews) – Important public figures and 183 MPs have openly criticised President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for accepting Ali Larijani’s resignation as Iran's nuclear negotiator, bringing to the fore the power struggle that is dividing the country, increasingly affected by economic crisis and under pressure from the international community.

Two days ago, 183 lawmakers signed a letter praising Ali Larijani for his “abilities” in negotiating with Western powers and the United Nations. Mr Larijani was Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator since 2005. His resignation was immediately accepted by Iran’s president, who named a close ally, Saeed Jalili, as replacement.

In their letter, the 183 MPs (more than 50 per cent of the total) stressed that Iran's nuclear programme should be pursued in a “logical and reasonable fashion as in the past.”

Despite his resignation, Mr Larijani was present at talks on Tuesday in Rome between Jalili and Javier Solana, the European Union's foreign policy chief. He did so as Mr Khamenei's personal representative on Iran's Supreme National Security Council.

Iran now appears to rely on dual negotiators—with Mr Larijani answering to the Supreme Leader and Mr Jalili, the senior partner, reporting to the president.

Mohammad Reza Bahonar, the first deputy speaker of the Majlis (Parliament of Iran), told journalists that Larijani and Ahmadinejad had strong differences of opinion that could not be reconciled.

Various diplomatic observers believe that that president wants confrontation with the international community, whilst Larijani (and Khamenei) want to avoid brinkmanship which might end up in a possible war with the West.

Ahmadinejad is well known for his tirades against the Holocaust, threats to the existence of Israel, and attempts to create an anti-US coalition in the Third World.

He has insisted that Iran has the right to continue its nuclear programme, claiming that it is for peaceful purposes.

The international community is concerned however that Iran’s civilian programme might turn into a military one.

Tensions have risen a notch in recent days after the US President George W. Bush warned against a possible Third World War if Iran gets the atomic bomb.

Turkey’s threats against Iraqi Kurdistan and the widespread insecurity in the region are encouraging what some experts call Ahmadinejad’s adventurism.

Referring to Mr Larijani's resignation, Ali Akbar Velayati, a former foreign minister who now serves as foreign policy adviser to Mr Khamenei, said: "In the very important and sensitive situation where the nuclear issue is at the moment, it would have been better if this had not happened.”

Even the director of the Strategic Majlis Research Centre, Ahmad Tavakkoli, who previously backed some of the president's policies, this time expressed disappointment at the resignation of Larijani, whose political stature is far greater than the "inexperienced ex-foreign minister" who replaced him.

And President Ahmadinejad has not been criticised for his nuclear policy alone. In recent days the Iranian press has been critical of his dismal economic policies.

Talking to the economic daily Sarmayeh, former President Mohammad Khatami expressed concerns over rising inflation, underestimated by official government statistics.

“Inflation exists in society . . . every single person in society says that it exists, and ordinary people feel it every time they purchase something,” Khatami said. “If you give figures that inflation does not exist or insert some change in the scientific indices to reach a desirable result, this will not make the realities [of higher prices] disappear.”

Iran's year-on-year inflation is currently running at 15.8 percent, according to central bank statistics, but many economists dispute this figure. Iranian parliamentary research estimates that inflation this year is running at 22.4 per cent.

Price rises in basic goods and services and fuel rationing (and this in a major oil producing nation) have led to widespread dissatisfaction in the population.

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