The bazaars of Tehran are agog over the dramatic change in their president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who made the pilgrimage to Mecca this week at the invitation of Saudi King Abdullah.
All of a sudden, he has stopped cursing America and sounds quite reasonable. It is an open secret in Tehran and the Gulf region that Washington and Tehran are immersed in private talks, joined by Riyadh, for pulling their policies and strategies together. DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s Iranian sources disclose that even the president’s political foes admit to the otherwise inexplicable transformation, a landmark in decades of shrill Iranian-US animosity.
One particular comment reflects the startled speculation rife in Tehran. It appeared in the E’temad-e Melli, a Tehran publication which speaks for Medhi Karoubi, the former Majlis Speaker who leads the reformist bloc of 22 factions, united by their dedication to overthrowing Ahmadinejad in the next presidential election. The writer refers to Ahmadinejad’s mild response to the US National Intelligence Estimate which on Dec. 3 absolved Iran of a nuclear weapons program since 2003.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly renders the high points of this comment:
Has a new Ahmadinejad evolved?
The president’s eighth press conference was different from the previous ones. During past press conferences, the handful of microphones positioned on the stand were used to make points that needed to be amended and interpreted by his friends, ministers and cabinet members for days after the press conference, in order to make them less confrontational.
Even then, his words normally evoked strong reactions in the West. This time, however, instead of placing a photo of the Damavand or the Freedom Roundabout on the stand, there was a photo of the House of God. And instead of using confrontational language and big words, the president managed to stick to normal soft language.
…A new Ahmadinejad seems to have evolved from the old one… more positive words were used and few slogans shouted. He neither called the West inept, nor did he set out to ridicule the [UN Security Council] resolutions.
He did not even use his usual rhetoric of how Iran can retaliate and put pressure on the West. He started with a moderate opening which evolved into diplomatic language:
“America’s intelligence report was a positive step and we hope that America manages to take a couple more positive steps to pave the way for solving regional problems.”
The question is why did it take two years for the president to come out and demonstrate in his eighth press conference a U-turn in his approach to the West which was observed by both international and national correspondents? Is the only reason for this U-turn the release of the report by Americans confirming Iran has abandoned its nuclear weapons program or is there any other reason that has made the president praise America instead of calling it the “Big Satan”?
What is behind this transformation? Has the president perhaps learned from his previous experiences that when there are a couple of microphones on the desk it does not necessarily mean that one should use them for confrontation and hot debates and one can make this point by sticking to calm and diplomatic rhetoric too?
Now that the president has learned to send logical messages instead of personal letters to Bush, and invite America to take positive steps to resolve the remaining issues, is it not time for the president to perhaps try and change his attitude towards his internal critics too to save us having to wait for another couple of years and witness more trial and error?
DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s Iranian sources note Ahmadinejad’s unstable and radical nature. He is capable of swinging from extreme to another without notice. At the same time, he is craftily aware of the effect he produces. Therefore, it must be taken into account that rather than undergoing a profound conversion, he switched tone and style to sucker the opposition and steal the reformist parties’ main campaign weapon for the forthcoming election to the 290-member majlis on March 14, 2008 – the president’s off-the-wall rhetoric.
Whatever his motives, the president’s new style is so popular in Tehran that he will find it very hard to go back to his old pugnacity.