Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader, is coming under increasing pressure to rein in Mahmoud Ahmadi-Nejad, the president, over the radical stance he has taken on the country’s nuclear programme, analysts said on Tuesday.
The pressure is coming from Iran’s reformists and conservative pragmatists who have intensified their warnings about the threat they believe Mr Ahmadi-Nejad’s intransigence over the nuclear programme poses to national security.
The escalation of tensions at the top of the regime was exposed on Monday in public speeches given by both Mr Ahmadi-Nejad and Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, an influential former president.
The president called critics of the nuclear policy “traitors” and accused them of urging the west to impose sanctions on Iran.
Mr Rafsanjani, meanwhile, warned that threats – both economic and military – had to be taken seriously. In a provocative move, Mr Rafsanjani was accompanied during his speech by Hossein Mousavian, a former nuclear negotiator, who the president has labelled a “nuclear spy”.
Iranian analysts did not necessarily see the comments by Mr Ahmadi-Nejad as a sign that he felt emboldened by the recent replacement of Ali Larijani, the most senior official responsible for the nuclear brief, with a close ally, and a reshuffle of key economic posts in his cabinet.
Instead, they said it was an angry reaction to efforts by different political groups to exert pressure on Ayatollah Khamenei, who has the last say in all state affairs, to prevent Mr Ahmadi-Nejad from further radicalising the nuclear programme.
“Ahmadi-Nejad’s comments show tensions within the regime are escalating, while he is becoming paranoid that a big network is lobbying against him,” a political analyst said. “His feeling of insecurity is seen in the efforts to appoint only those he believes would not bypass him, as Larijani did.”
There are rumours that Ayatollah Khamenei is angry with the president over Mr Larijani’s exit, even though he reluctantly gave his final approval after continuation of tensions between the two men.
Mr Ahmadi-Nejad indirectly addressed the rumours on Monday and tried to deny there was a problem. “There are many who assert the president and the leader have different views on the nuclear issue and have carried out many plans. But when I sit with him [Ayatollah Khamenei] and look into their plans, we only laugh at their ignorance.”
It is the supreme leader who makes final decisions on the nuclear programme, not the president. But the process of convincing him of what approach to take has fuelled political infighting.
Mr Ahmadi-Nejad has the advantage of meeting Ayatollah Khamenei more frequently than his critics and being the main source on the domestic and international situation.