Boy, this has not been a very good ten days for Iranian President Mahmoud “the Mad” Ahmadinejad. Consider the following:
1. Last Thursday, the White House announced that it was ending the so-called “missilie shield” plan devised by his predecessor, thus making Russia (which until then had been holding out on sanctions) happy and openly questioning Iran’s ICBM capacity. To add insult to injury, the Obama Administration made it pretty clear that existing U.S. technology could more than handle any short- or medium-range missile capacity.
2. On Friday, the largest anti-regime protests in two months erupted in Iran:
In Tehran and other cities, tens of thousands of demonstrators hijacked Iran’s annual al-Quds Day rallies in support of the Palestinian cause and turned them into protests against the oppression of Iranians. The security forces hit back with teargas and baton charges. There were violent confrontations between government and opposition supporters in the squares and avenues of central Tehran and numerous reports of arrests and injuries. . . .
There had been no major demonstrations since July 17 but the Government could hardly cancel al-Quds Day, an event initiated by Ayatollah Khomeini, the founder of the Islamic Republic, and the opposition seized its chance. Its supporters turned out in huge numbers and paralysed the centre of Tehran; estimates of the turnout ranged from 100,000 to 500,000. They were young and old, male and female, rich and poor, and came with green wristbands, T-shirts, balloons and banners to show support for Mr Mousavi’s green movement.”
Things got so bad that Ahmadinejad had to cut short an interview with state-controlled because chants of “Ahmadi, Ahmadi, resign, resign!” could be heard in the background.
3. That same day, Ahmadinejad gave a fiery speech in which he once again denounced the Holocaust as a “lie” and a “myth.” As Trita Parsi subsequently noted, the timing of the speech was probably not unintentional. Ahmadinejad had not ranted about the Holocaust for more than two years. For him to raise it now, in the middle of continued demonstrations at home and growing concern about Iran’s nuke program abroad has to be more than a coincidence.
Given both the protests at home and the outrage over his statements overseas, it doesn’t look like his plan worked.
4. On Wednesday, Obama went before the General Assembly and singled out Iran’s nuclear ambitions (along with those of North Korea):
In their actions to date, the governments of North Korea and Iran threaten to take us down this dangerous slope. We respect their rights as members of the community of nations. I’ve said before and I will repeat, I am committed to diplomacy that opens a path to greater prosperity and more secure peace for both nations if they live up to their obligations.
But if the governments of Iran and North Korea choose to ignore international standards; if they put the pursuit of nuclear weapons ahead of regional stability and the security and opportunity of their own people; if they are oblivious to the dangers of escalating nuclear arms races in both East Asia and the Middle East — then they must be held accountable. The world must stand together to demonstrate that international law is not an empty promise, and that treaties will be enforced. We must insist that the future does not belong to fear.
Obama’s words weren’t significantly different from those uttered by his predecessor, except, of course, for the inconvenient fact that he has had significantly greater success in buiding consensus among the Group of Six” (Russia, China, USA, Britain, France, and Germany) for sanctions.
5. That same day, Russian President Dmitri Medvedev made it clear that Russia would now support sanctions if Iran failed to comply with the Non-Proliferation Treaty and the IAEA (which earlier this month had announced that it was in a “stalemate” with Iran). Medvedev went on to say that sanctions don’t always produce the desired results, but that sometimes sanctions are “inevitable.”
6. And if that wasn’t enough, Wednesday was also the day that Ahmadinejad took his turn before the UN General Assembly, only to see most of the delegates walk out. During his speech, he defended his recent “election” as “glorious and fully democratic” but then went off-script, claiming that “a small minority” (which most observers took to mean Jews) controlled the world’s political and economic system through “private networks.”
In one sense Ahmadinejad was lucky: Lybian dictator Moammar Khaddafi’s speech earlier in the day was so off-the-wall, Ahmadinejad’s ravings seemed fairly mild in comparison, getting significantly less media attention than they would have otherwise.
7. Thursday should have been fairly quiet — other than Obama chairing a session of the UN Security Council. All the UNSC did was pass a resolution on nuclear non-proliferation that only further boxed in Iran.
Oh, and then there was this.
Nothing like a little full-blown-crazy-in-the-face-of-photographic-evidence to make the day a little less fun. And if you have your doubts about whether Ahmadinejad is a full-blown psychopath, note how he smiled as Couric showed him the photo.
8. Finally, just when he thought things would calm down, Obama, along with Prime Minister Gordon Brown of the U.K. and President Nicolas Sarkozy of France, held a press conference in Pittsburgh this morning:
“President Obama and the leaders of Britain and France accused Iran on Friday of building a secret underground plant to manufacture nuclear fuel, saying the country has hidden the covert operation from international weapons inspectors for years. . . .Mr. Obama said that the Iranian nuclear program “represents a direct challenge to the basic foundation of the nonproliferation regime.” President Nicolas Sarkozy of France, appearing beside Mr. Obama, said that Iran had a deadline of two months to comply with international demands or face increased sanctions. “The level of deception by the Iranian government, and the scale of what we believe is the breach of international commitments, will shock and anger the entire international community,” Prime Minister Gordon Brown of Britain said.”
At about the same time that Obama et. al. were dropping this bomb, Ahmadinejad was meeting with TIME magazine’s editorial board. When Time editor Rick Stengel asked him about what Obama was saying, Ahmadinejad was taken aback, asking twice for confirmation before responding. He then described the allegations as “definitively a mistake. We have no secrecy.” A little later, he suggested that the allegation “adds to the list of issues to which the United States owes the Iranian nation an apology over.”
Now this is not merely a small building in the desert. Nope. It’s a Dr.-Evil’s-secret-complex-in-the-mountain kind of facility. And the Administration went public at least in part to demonstrate to the Iranians that it had the intelligence capacity to find out about such stuff. In response, Ahmadinejad canceled subsequent media appearances, including a press conference scheduled to take place this afternoon.
Maybe Ahmadinejad can convince the West that it’s an amusement park ride. At this rate, I bet he can’t wait to get back to Tehran.
The only problem is that it’s the one city where he’s even less popular than in New York.
UN Photo by Marco Castro
Charles J. Brown is Senior Fellow and Washington Director at the Institute for International Law and Human Rights and the host of Undiplomatic, a blog on the intersection of foreign policy, politics, and pop culture. You also can follow him on Twitter.
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