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Ahmadinejad's Special Envoys Become 'Advisers'

Iranian Foreign Minister Manuchehr Mottaki (left) and President Mahmud Ahmadinejad waiting to greet foreign ambassadors in Tehran in 2008.

Iranian Foreign Minister Manuchehr Mottaki (left) and President Mahmud Ahmadinejad waiting to greet foreign ambassadors in Tehran in 2008.

President Mahmud Ahmadinejad has appointed six presidential advisers for foreign affairs. The half-dozen are former presidential envoys to the Middle East, Asia, and Afghanistan who were appointed by Ahmadinejad -- reportedly to some consternation -- only earlier this month.

The change to their titles comes after protests by lawmakers and former diplomats and also criticism from Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei, who had warned against parallel activities in foreign affairs and other areas.

Ahmadinejad's deputy for political affairs, Mohammad Jafar Behdad, said the president followed the supreme leader's guidance and therefore the status of the special envoys was changed.

So did the famously combatant Iranian president retreat?

Rasool Nafisi, an Iran expert and professor at Strayed University, told Persian Letters that the move is "a typical Ahmadinejad tactic":

Ahmadinejad pulled one of his habitual tactics when faced with open criticism from Iran's leader, Ali Khamenei, about sending emissaries to different continents: Instead of canceling the plan, he simply changed its title. The Iranian president's initiative of sending envoys paralleling the Foreign Ministry without consulting with Khamenei was another of his bold moves -- like sending letters to the heads of state in Europe and the United States. He got slapped on the wrist, of course.

Many reformists say privately that they wished former President Muhammad Khatami had such courage, forgetting that Khatami was the leader of a de facto loyal opposition, while Ahmadinejad comes from the core of the state coercive apparatus, meaning the IRGC’s Qods force...

Mehrdad Khansari, a former Iranian diplomat and a London-based analyst, told Radio Farda that domestic pressure forced Ahmadinejad to avoid letting down Khamenei:

In any case, what is clear is that Ahmadinejad is interfering in areas that presidents before him had not entered. More importantly is that we're witnessing an astonishing change in the Foreign Ministry -- the morale of the staff is very low , their situation is uncertain, and we see that those who have an opportunity to cut their ties to the system do it as soon as they can.

Just this week, two Europe-based Iranian diplomats resigned and sought asylum in reaction to events since last year’s disputed presidential vote and joined the opposition.

Some analysts have suggested that the special advisers will be in charge of monitoring the work of the Foreign Ministry and reporting to Ahmadinejad, whose relations are said to be strained lately with his foreign minister, Manuchehr Mottaki.

In recent weeks there have been rumors of Mottaki's resignation; such speculation has been dismissed by Tehran.

Mottaki reacted to the reports on September 14 by saying: "We usually respond to the politically motivated rumors spread outside the country aimed at undermining our national interests. We don't give priority to responding to other rumors."

Meanwhile, the semiofficial ILNA news agency reported that Mottaki will travel with Ahmadinejad to New York on September 18 to attend the UN General Assembly, which suggests that for now Mottaki will continue his work.

-- Golnaz Esfandiari

About This Blog

Persian Letters is a blog that offers a window into Iranian politics and society. Written primarily by Golnaz Esfandiari, Persian Letters brings you under-reported stories, insight and analysis, as well as guest Iranian bloggers -- from clerics, anarchists, feminists, Basij members, to bus drivers.