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by Omid Memarian

Talk To Iran, Allies Tell Bush

(IPS) -- Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's recent letter to Bush, which was quickly dismissed by the administration as offering no useful concessions, has found new critics in Tehran amid the uncertainties surrounding Iran's nuclear program.

In his 18-page letter, Ahmadinejad strongly criticized the United States' foreign policy, declaring that "Western-style democracy has failed" and that "the use of secret prisons in Europe and aspects of the war in Iraq" could not be reconciled with Bush's "Christian values."

He raised a number of questions regarding human rights violations in the context of Washington's "war on terror," and referred repeatedly to religion and faith, raising eyebrows among some Iranians who believe Ahmadinejad overstepped his bounds as president and portrayed himself as some kind of mentor or prophet.

(Since coming to office, the president has claimed to have several divine experiences, including being surrounded by a light during his speech to the UN General Assembly last September).

"Ahmadinejad tries to connect himself to god in order to later protect himself from the ordinary people when he is facing a huge economic crisis inside and many international crises outside," one Iranian journalist told IPS on condition of anonymity.

Ahmadinejad did not mention the most visible point of contention between the U.S. and Iran -- Tehran's efforts to enrich uranium, ostensibly for nuclear power but which Washington and others warn could also be used to develop nuclear weapons.

The letter coincided with a statement by the European Union's criticising the Iranian government over the increasing number of executions and human rights violations, particularly the recent arrest of Ramin Jahanbeglou, a prominent Iranian scholar.

Meanwhile, many Iranian dissidents, bloggers and writers seized on the opportunity to write their own letters to Ahmadinejad. "Present this long list of questions to Ayatollah Khamenei, the supreme leader, and then evaluate how both of you treats the Iranian people," wrote Mohsen Sazegara, a former founder of the Revolutionary Guards who now lives in Washington as an exile.

"It is better to resolve the Iranian people's crisis," he wrote in a letter that was widely circulated by email and posted on Iranian affairs websites, "than to give advice or defy the demands of global powers...Let go of this childish behavior!"

"Ahmadinejad broke the taboo of negotiating with United States without achieving peace and glory for Iran," wrote Mohammad Ghoochani, editor-in-chief of Shargh, one of the more popular dailies in Tehran.

"The Bush administration didn't respond to this letter," he added in the controversial editorial, "and that had no repercussions for it. But Iran broke one of the taboos without achieving anything. Could anybody predict the cold reaction of the United States? The reaction of the United States to Ahmadinejad's letter is an insult to Iranians, which was brought about by Ahmadinejad in the first place."

Of course, the letter also had its admirers. Ayatollah Jannati, the head of Iran's notorious Guardian Council, one of the most conservative bodies in the Islamic Republic, declared the letter to be an inspiration from god and said students should study it in school. "God wants to enhance the power of this country with inspiring its will through this letter... They are the losers, whether they answer or not... It proves their weakness."

Mehdi Karrobi, the former reformist head of parliament, directly criticized Jannati's remarks. "Officials are not people's mentors," he wrote in his response. "The president is not in such a high position."

Meanwhile, Fatemeh Rajabi, the wife of Ahmadinejad's chief of staff, announced that she is going to publish a book called "Ahmadinejad, the Miracle of the Third Millennium."

Just a day before the letter's contents became known on May 9, some analysts speculated that Ahmadinejad must have addressed some of the issues revolving around the nuclear deadlock and paved the way for further negotiations.

Even so, critics doubted it would do much to break the nuclear impasse, citing Ahmadinejad's speech at the United Nations last August, which surprised many in the international community with its aggressive tone and led to increased pressures on Iran.

Ahmadinejad and the conservatives eagerly expected Pres. Bush to respond. "Bush must answer this logical letter," said Haddad-Adel, the current head of parliament.

The reaction on Bush's part, however, was so muted that it required additional explanations for the letter by Iran's president. "This letter," declared Ahmadinejad, "was about much higher issues than the nuclear one, which we don't consider important enough to write letters for. We are striving to solve the world's most vital problems. This letter has been an invitation to following the teachings of the prophet, justice, and unification."

Regardless of its many interpretations, the letter does indicate that Iran's leaders, despite what they might say to the contrary, are enthusiastically awaiting an opening of dialogue with the United States.

There is a common belief among the conservatives that receiving security guarantees from the United States would ensure the regime's survival. This explains why Ahmadinejad tried to find a way to talk directly to Washington, even though he did not receive any positive signals in return.

Ahmadinejad's fruitless letter to Bush, as the first direct communication between an Iranian leader and a U.S. president since 1979, has further reduced his appeal to Iran's middle class, journalists and intellectuals. Most believe that he wrote this letter at the wrong time and without achieving any tangible results -- other than enhancing the United States' position in this power struggle.

Omid Memarian is an Iranian journalist and civil society activist. He has won several awards, including Human Rights Watch's highest honour in 2005, the Human Rights Defender Award. Omid is currently a visiting scholar at the Graduate School of Journalism at the University of California, Berkeley

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Albion Monitor   May 24, 2006   (

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