Iran’s Ahmadinejad offers new start with West

Iran’s hard-line president said Wednesday that he would soon unveil proposals to resolve the international impasse over his country’s nuclear program, and he offered a fresh start with the West, an announcement that comes as he struggles to shore up domestic support ahead of the presidential election in June.

“We are preparing a new package to be presented and we will hold talks based on that package, which includes peace and justice across the globe, respecting the rights of all nations and participation of all nations and countries in resolving international issues,” Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said in a speech to supporters gathered in the oasis city of Kerman.

“The Iranian nation is a generous nation,” he said later. “It may forget the past and start a new era.”

Ahmadinejad revealed no details about the proposals.

Last summer, nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili, a confidant of Ahmadinejad, delivered a document outlining possible areas of cooperation with world powers during talks aimed at getting Iran to stop nuclear activities in exchange for economic incentives. The United States, the European Union, China and Russia largely ignored the offer.

One conservative Iranian lawmaker said the new proposal would have a moderate tone but would not raise the issue of Iran’s enrichment of uranium, which the West wants stopped. Western governments believe Iran wants to build nuclear weapons, but Tehran says its enrichment program is intended to produce electricity.


“Iran does not want to negotiate about enrichment of uranium and considers it as done and taken for granted,” said the lawmaker, Hamid Reza Haji Babaie.

“The new package from the Iranian side means all sit at the table and all consult to get to common ground,” he said. “Not like before, when others asked and only Iran was supposed to be accountable and had to answer.”

In any case, Ahmadinejad plays a relatively minor role in determining Iran’s nuclear policy and its stance toward the U.S. Those positions are largely shaped by Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the cleric who is Iran’s highest religious and political authority, in consultation with other leaders of the national security establishment.

His speech comes amid potentially alarming news for Ahmadinejad, who is vulnerable among poor voters because of his handling of the economy and among educated urbanites for pursuing a foreign policy that has soured relations with the West.

“He wants to do something that looks like detente in foreign policy,” said Hamid Reza Jalaipour, a social scientist and political commentator. “He moderates his tone for domestic consumption.”

A poll recently showed that his reformist rival Mir-Hossein Mousavi would handily beat him in the June 12 vote, and Hashemi Rafsanjani, a former president and powerful ayatollah, threw his organization’s support behind the challenger.

Ahmadinejad’s supporters have dismissed the poll and point to others showing the president in the lead. They also noted that reformists were split between Mousavi and former parliamentary speaker Mehdi Karroubi, but that conservative factions appeared to be coalescing behind Ahmadinejad.

But there are signs of unrest in the Ahmadinejad camp. On Tuesday, Mojtaba Samareh Hashemi, one of his closest aides, resigned as senior advisor. He was disliked by powerful members of the clergy for his mystically infused political rhetoric and mistrusted by the public as a Karl Rove-like figure.

Earlier a pro-Ahmadinejad lawmaker lashed out at Mousavi, a respected former prime minister, as close to “extremist” critics of the government, in a piece published by a newspaper loyal to the president, a move that raised eyebrows.

Mousavi is taking heat from conservatives for vowing to loosen social restrictions and moderate a foreign policy that has become more anti-Western under Ahmadinejad.

Indeed, despite Ahmadinejad’s softened rhetoric Wednesday, the Foreign Ministry rejected a request by the country’s most popular soccer club to travel to the U.S. for an exhibition game, the team’s managing director told an Iranian news agency. The Persepolis club often travels abroad for matches.


Mostaghim is a special correspondent.