Iranian president is rebuked


TEHRAN, IRAN -- Iran's outspoken president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, appears to be under pressure from the highest authorities in Iran to end his involvement in the country's nuclear program, a sign that his political capital is declining as his country comes under increasing international pressure.

Less than a month after the United Nations Security Council imposed sanctions on Iran to curb its nuclear program, two hard-line newspapers, including one owned by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, called on the president to stay out of all matters nuclear. In the hazy world of Iranian politics, such a public rebuke was seen as a sign that the supreme leader himself - who has final say on all matters of state -may no longer support the president as the public face of defiance to the West.

It is the first sign that the president has lost any degree of confidence from the leader, a potentially damaging reality for a president who has rallied his nation and defined his administration by declaring nuclear power to be Iran's "inalienable right."

It was unclear, however, whether this was merely an effort to improve Iran's public image by lowering Ahmadinejad's public profile or signaled a change in policy. The Iranian presidency is a relatively weak position with no official authority over foreign policy, the domain of the supreme leader. But. Ahmadinejad has used the bully pulpit to insert himself into the nuclear debate, and as long as he appeared to enjoy Khamenei's support, he could continue.

While Iran remains publicly defiant, insisting it will move ahead with its nuclear ambitions, it is under increasing strain as political and economic pressures grow. And the message that Iran's most senior officials seem to be sending is that the president, with his harsh approach and caustic comments, is undermining Iran's cause and its standing.

Ahmadinejad dismissed the Security Council resolution as "a piece of torn paper." But the daily newspaper Jomhouri-Elsami, which belongs to Ayatollah Khamenei, said, "The resolution is certainly harmful for the country," adding that it is "too much to call it a piece of torn paper."

The newspaper said the nuclear case requires its own diplomacy, "sometimes toughness and sometimes flexibility."

In another sign of pressure on the president to distance himself from the nuclear issue, a second newspaper run by an aide to the country's chief nuclear negotiator, Ali Larijani, also pressed him to end his involvement with the nuclear program. Larijani was selected for his post by the supreme leader.

"They want to minimize the consequences of sanctions now that they have been imposed," said Mohammad Atrianfar, the former head of the daily Shargh and a reformist politician. "But they don't have clear strategy and they are taking one step at a time."

Iran's president entered office more than a year ago as an outsider. He was mayor of Tehran and promised to challenge the status quo, to equally distribute Iran's oil wealth and to restore what he saw as the lost values of the Islamic revolution. His was a populist message, centered on a socialist economic model and Islamic values. From the start he found opposition from the right and left, in the Iranian parliament and among those who viewed themselves as being more pragmatic.

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