Ahmadinejad and Atomics
In September 2005, in a speech at the UN General Assembly, Ahmadinejad asserted his good faith in supporting the non-proliferation regime and Iran's pursuit of peaceful nuclear technology. At the same time, Ahmadinejad accused the United States of not only proliferating weapons of mass destruction, but also a "climate of intimidation and injustice." Despite his peaceful intentions, declared the Iranian president, "if some try to impose their will on the Iranian people... we will reconsider our entire approach to the nuclear issue." In September 2005, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) announced that Iran was in non-compliance with the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), and recommended sanctions. Ahmadinejad threatened to continue the enrichment of uranium if the IAEA continued to pursue sanctions against Iran.
Following his 2005 speech before the United Nations, it was reported that in a conversation with Iranian cleric Ayatollah Javadi Amoli, Ahmadinejad stated that he felt he was surrounded by a ring of light. Reports suggested that a CD containing video of this conversation circulated Iran. In the video, Ahmadinejad reportedly said that an audience member informed him about the light, he felt the light himself, and that for 27-28 minutes, the audience did not blink. FardaNews.com, a convervative website, and other sources accused Ahmadinejad's opponents of distributing the video to discredit him.
In May 2006, the United Nations Security Council passed a resolution that required Iran to terminate all uranium enrichment programs by August 2006. Ahmadinejad continued to resist. In his 20 September 2006 speech to the United Nations General Assembly, Ahmadinejad provided a list of indictments against the United States and accused the Security Council of lacking both legitimacy and effectiveness.
Iran's non-compliance prompted the Security Council pass Resolution 1737 in December 2006 to impose sanctions on nuclear material and technology entering Iran. The sanctions also froze the assets and restricted travel for personnel involved in Iran's nuclear proliferation activities. Iran was given 60 days to come to the negotiating table. Continued Iranian non-compliance brought about a unanimous vote for Security Council Resolution 1747 in March 2007 that added to previous sanctions including an import/export ban on arms and a restriction on all international funds to Iran except development and humanitarian aid.
In response the United Nations sanctions, Ahmadinejad announced to the West, "I want you to know that the Iranian nation has humiliated you many times, and it will humiliate you in the future." As of through 2007 and into 2008, attempts at negotiations with Iran remained at an impasse. By July 2008 the rhetoric had toned down suggesting a possible return to negotiations.
As president, Ahmadinejad took a more confrontational approach to the United States, to Sunni Arab neighbors, to Afghanistan, and certainly toward Israel. Ahmadinejad's supporters said he "will punch in the mouth" all those who advocate relations with the United States. On 20 January 2006, Ahmadinejad in Damascus described the movement against American hegemony:
"[The United States and Israel]... bear no weight in the vastness of the universe. They are furthermore, rootless, although they have exerted their hegemony in certain parts of the world today, and have certain claims. A global front against oppression and hegemony is now taking shape and all noble nations, justice seekers, and thoughtful individuals are gradually putting hand in hand to shape up a vast front agaisnt the hegemonic system and mentality."
On 26 October 2005, Ahmadinejad spoke at a conference in Tehran called "World Without Zionism" where he painted a vision of the epic battle between Islam and the "World of Ignorance," a West led by Israel and the Zionist movement. The Islamic distinction between Dar al-Islam, which means 'Territory of Peace,' and Dar al-Harb, which means 'Territory of War' or 'Chao,' was a political and legal one. Dar al-Islam refers to territory governed by Islamic law and Dar al-Harb to territory that is not. In contrast, the "World of Ignorance" refers to a place untouched by the illumination brought by the Prophet Muhammad.
Following the conference, Ahmadinejad was quoted to have said that Israel should be "wiped off the map." Observers pointed out that Ahmadinejad never said these words. In Farsi, his words were, "Imam ghoft een rezhim-e ishghalgar-e qods bayad az safheh-ye ruzgar mahv shavad." Translated, Ahmadinejad was expressing his support of Imam Khomeini's statement that "this regime that is occupying Qods (Jerusalem) must be eliminated from the pages of history."
Though the accuracy of his exact words as reported by Western media may have been in question, his speech inspired thousands of Iranian to stage an anti-Israel protest on 28 October 2005. The protesters chanted "Death to Israel, death to America" while they trampled and burned Israeli and American flags. International condemnation followed. Ahmadinejad stood by his rhetoric and reportedly responded that the Western nations "are free to talk, but their words have no validity."
On 08 December 2005, Ahmadinejad gave a speech at the summit of Muslim nations to again condemn the existence of Israel. On 13 December 2005, Ahmadinejad aroused immediate condemnation from Israel, Germany, and the European Union when in the Iranian city of Zahedan, he accused the West of inviting the "myth of the Holocaust." Further Ahmadinejad asserted:
"Some European countries insist on saying that Hitler killed millions of innocent Jews in furnaces. And they insist so strongly on this issue that anyone who denies it is condemned and sent to prison...Although we don't accept this claim, if we suppose it is true, our question for the Euorpeans is: is the killing of innocent Jewish people by Hitler the reason for their support to the occupier of Jerusalem? They faced injustice in Europe so why do the repercussions fall on the Palestinians?...it will be good if you give a piece of your own soil, a piece of soil in Europe, the United States, Canada, or Alaska to them (Jews) so that they can create a country for themselves."
On the anniversary of the 1979 Islamic revolution in Iran, Ahmadinejad on 11 February 2006, reportedly expressed these sentiments to demonstrators: "... a handful of Zionists in Palestine" were responsible for the insulting cartoons of Islam's prophet Mohammad appearing in European dailies. "If you are looking for the real Holocaust, go to Palestine and take a look at the crimes of Israel there, or you can also find the real Holocaust in Iraq," he said. He called on European governments to free themselves from "the yoke of Zionism" and "believe that Zionism is on the verge of destruction ... The Iranian nation is today chanting the death of Israel." The Iranian president called Western leaders "... a bunch of proxy dictators and sergeant majors of Zionists." He warned them to "pack up the stuff that you unfurled 60 years ago and save yourselves from the wrath of nations ... If you don't listen to this advice, then the Palestinian people and other nations will force you to submit to their wishes."
On 3 July 2007, it was reported that Ahmadinejad launched an 24-hour English television channel to redress the Western bias of world news.
Letters to America
On 29 November 2006, Ahmadinejad released to UN reporters an open letter to the American people addressed to "Noble Americans" and attacked the US administration's foreign policy against Iraq and Palestine as "illegal and immoral" towards the global community and American citizens alike. Further, Ahmadinejad urged the winners of the 2006 US midterm elections to act with truth and justice rather than coercion and force to "remedy some of the past afflictions and alleviate some of the global resentment and hatred of America." This letter echoed an 18-page letter sent to Mr. Bush in May 2006 to which Bush did not reply.
Reactions from the United States State Department dismissed the letter as a public relations gesture, and emphasized the importance of the Iranian leader's actions rather than his words. Other commentators applauded Ahmadinejad's condemnation of US Foreign Policy as the words of a fair and reasonable man, and that perhaps US rhetoric of his extremism slandered Ahmadinejad unjustly.
A third view, voiced by less mainstream commentators, was that Ahmadinejad's letter served as a da'awah, which means 'summons' or an invitation to non-Muslims to submit to Islam. The da'awah is a Muslim obligation that should be fulfilled before war could be waged justly. Ahmadinejad's letters could have been a fulfillment of this obligation.
Commentators such as Amir Taheri of the Jerusalem Post noted that the tradition of writing letters reached back to the Prophet Muhammad who wrote to regional heads of state to invite them to submit to Islam. Recipients of the Prophet Muhammad's invitations included Khosrow Parviz (Chosroes II) of Persia, Emperor Heraclius of Byzantium, Muqawqis of Egypt, al-Mundhir bin Sawa, and Negus of Ethiopia. According to Islamic tradition, the letter to the Persian king was received and angrily torn up by Khosrow's son who had deposed his father, and the subsequent fall of Persian Empire was attributed to this rejection. It was recorded that all the letters resembled each other (Sahih Bukhari's, Volume 1, Book 1-6):
In the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful. This letter is from Muhammad the slave of Allah and his Apostle to ----. Peace be upon him who follows the right path. Furthermore, I invite you to Islam and if you become a Muslim you will be safe, and Allah will double your reward, and if you reject this invitation of Islam you will be committing a sin by misguiding your subjects. And I recite to you Allah's statement:
"O People of the Scriptures! Come to a word common to you and us that we worship none but Allah and that we associate nothing in worship with Him, and that none of us shall take others as Lords beside Allah. Then if they turn away, say: Bear witness that we are Muslims (those who have surrendered to Allah). (Qur'an: Surah 3, Ayah 64)."
Ali Ibn Abi-Talib, the fourth Caliph, used letters to fulfill to Islamic duties: tahzir (warning) addressed to Muslims and da'awah (invitation) addressed to non-Muslims. Ali holds a prominent place in Shi'ism as the son-in-law and true heir of the Prophet Muhammad. Muhammad Ibn Hassan, the 12th Imam or 'Hidden Imam' whose return from occultation is prophesized, also used letters to communicate to his followers.
In 1987, Ayatollah Khomeini wrote a letter to Mikhail Gorbachev in response to a letter from Gorbachev to Khomeini seeking a partnership to defeat the Muhjahedin in Afghanistan. Modelled on Muhammad's letters, Khomeini informed Gorbachev that "your main problem is the lack of true belief in God" and invited Gorbachev to submit to Islam. Gorbachev declined. Mr. Taheri and others drew parallels between Ahmadinejad's letters and those of Prophet Muhammad and Ayatollah Khomeini, and maintained that these letters reflected the ideological dichotomy that pervades Ahmadinejad's political mission, a mission that seeks to overturn the international system.
A difference, however, between the Ahmadinejad's letters and those of his predecessors was that rather than a letter inviting America to submit to Islam, Ahmadinejad addressed the political soul of America and asked of Americans, "Is there not a better approach to governance?"
Ahmadinejad said in an 8 June 2005 interview on state broadcasting that he favored relations with all other countries on the basis of respect. He said relations with immediate neighbors were the most important, followed by countries that were once part of the Persian Empire. Then came Muslim states, and last but not least, states that were not hostile to Iran. Turning to the United Nations, Ahmadinejad said its structure was "one-sided, stacked against the world of Islam."
Ahmadinejad fervently supported the independence of Palestine, and at the Third Annual Qods Conference supporting the rights of the Palestinian people in April 2006, he gave a speech characterizing the Zionist threat to the region and to Islam as "unending and unrestrained." Ahmadinejad's support of Palestine echoed the words of Imam Khomeini on the topic.
Ahmadinejad, speaking in Damascus on 20 January 2006, also reportedly questioned the sincerity of the western countries in their claims to support freedom. He suggested that Western countries open their borders to the Jewish population to demonstrate their sincerity. He wondered if they had allowed the immigrants who have entered Palestine from all over the world to immigrate to Europe or the US, would there be the Zionist problem today:
"Would you open the doors of your own countries to these immigrants in a way that they could travel to any part of Europe they choose? Would you offer necessary guarantees that you would provide their security when they come to your countries and not set up another anti-semitic wave in Europe?"
Ahmadinejad reached out to neighboring countries with a rhetoric of peace, cooperation and regional security. He used platforms like the 9th Economic Cooperation Organization (ECO) summit held in Baku, Azerbaijan on 4 May 2006, and official state visits such as the January 2006 visit to Syria, to reach out to countries like Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Pakistan, Turkey, Kazakhstan, Oman, and the UAE.
On 13 June 2007, the US Defense Department linked shipments of weapons received by the Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan to Iranian sources. Officials stated it was unlikely that Tehran remained ignorant of the shipments.
Upon entering office, Ahmadinejad removed many "moderates" in the Foreign Ministry and other institutions populated by supporters of outgoing President Khatami, along with a further crackdown on the media and intellectuals.
Domestically, Ahmadinejad's administration cracked down on dissenters with methods ranging from harassment to arrest and interrogations. Crackdowns that started in the spring of 2007 were characterized as the worst in two decades. In April 2007, authorities started a mass confiscation of satellite dishes. Police patrolled the streets to crack down on "bad hejabi" or improper dress among both men and women, and by the end of April 2007, had stopped or detained 150,000 cases. In June 2007, the Supreme National Security Council released to the media a three page list of forbidden topics. Banned topics included disagreements between Shi'ites and Sunnies, ethnic unrest within Iran, and uneasy relations between Iran and other Muslim countries.
It was reported that in March 2007, 30 women's rights advocates were arrested and sentenced to prison terms. Eight students from Tehran's Amir Kabir University reportedly disappeared into Evin Prison. The March 2007 Teacher's Union protest in search of higher wages resulted in hundreds of arrests. Three Iranian-Americans were also detained in Evin Prison: Haleh Esfandiari, Kian Tajbakhsh, and Kali Shakeri. A fourth, Parnez Azima, was barred from leaving the country.
An open letter from 57 economists to a newspaper in June 2007 criticized Ahmadinejad's economic policies, which, the letter claimed, fueled unsustainable inflation and squandered the country's oil profits. The letter signaled growing discontentment that Ahmadinejad's election promises of oil-fueled prosperity had gone unfulfilled. As of mid-2007, Ahmadinejad's campaign promise of increased social safety nets and monthly stipends remained a promise. As of May 2007, unofficial inflation in Iran was estimated at 20-30% (officially estimated to be 15.8% in 2006) annually while government policies capped interest rates at 12%. Despite being the 4th largest oil producer, Iran had to import gasoline as it did not possess the capabilities to refine crude oil. Iran suffered from a balance of payment deficit, and critics accused Ahmadinejad of depleting Iran's foreign reserves on extravagant political projects. Reformist Iranian parliamentarians opposed him on these issues.
On 22 May 2006, the government raised the price of gasoline by 25% from its previous government subsidized low of 1000 rials (11 US cents) per liter. On 27 June 2007, violence erupted in 9 areas of Tehran as angry youths protested news that the government had imposed fuel rations overnight. The rations were effective immediately. The rations placed a restriction of 100 liters per month for each private vehicle for a period of 4 months with a possible extension to 6 months. Sources reported that the angry youths destroyed property and called for the death of Ahmadinejad. 19 Tehran gas stations were reportedly affected in the riots, and more than 80 were detained in relation to the incident. It was reported that the fuel rations were imposed in response to US statements that Iran's gasoline import was an issue of 'leverage.'
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