Outburst In Tehran

2 minute read
Scott MacLeod

Memo to World: Iran’s new President is a radical, after all. When Mahmoud Ahmadinejad won an upset victory in June, his foreign-policy views were a mystery. A 48-year-old civil engineer who had become Tehran’s populist mayor in 2003, he focused on domestic rather than international issues. But last week, Ahmadinejad stunned diplomats with the sort of outburst expected from a terrorist, not a President. At a conference in Tehran called “The World Without Zionism,” Ahmadinejad told 4,000 students that “Israel must be wiped off the map.” Afterwards, he joined 30,000 Iranians in an anti-Israel march through Tehran. Weaving among the demonstrators were dozens of young men outfitted with fake suicide belts, like those worn for “martyrdom operations” of the type radical Palestinians have carried out repeatedly against Israeli civilians. Other protesters carried placards with hate speech, some of which seemed to have been freshly painted to parrot Ahmadinejad’s phrase.

Iranian diplomats downplayed the episode. Nonetheless, Iranian political scientist Hadi Semati told TIME Ahmadinejad’s reversal of the conciliatory tone of former reformist President Mohammed Khatami risks escalating the ongoing showdown with the West over Iran’s nuclear-enrichment ambitions. With his administration beset by an internal power struggle between military hard-liners and religious conservatives, Ahmadinejad may have been trying to bolster his standing with radicals. “The restraints are all off,” says a Western diplomat in Tehran. “[The President] is remote-controlled by the very people who are responsible for all the bad stuff.” Says a Tehran reformist: “Now we have a President who speaks as if he is sitting around in a mosque, talking with a bunch of radical friends. This is the worst time of our lives.” Given Iran’s turmoil since 1979, that’s saying something.

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