Saeed Jalili's Pride

Iran's nuclear negotiator and his boss see nuke program as status symbol.

saeed jalili 248.88 (photo credit: AP)
saeed jalili 248.88
(photo credit: AP)
In Iran, much like the rest of the world, possessions are used as status symbols by the wealthy. Among other things, the rich judge each other by what car the other person drives, in which neighborhood of Teheran they live, which hotel they stay during their shopping trips to Dubai and what cellphone they use. The same applies to politicians, many of whom during the reign of Ali Rafsanjani and Muhammad Khatami abused their positions to amass huge fortunes. No government expenses were spared to purchase the latest BMW or Mercedes Benz for them. Meanwhile, others managed to buy government property in Iran's scenic Caspian Sea coast for a fraction of the market price. The children of such politicians, who are sarcastically called agha zadeh (children of nobles), are known to have benefited handsomely from their fathers' corruption. Their friends don't seem to mind. The parties thrown by these agha zadehs are famous in northern Teheran for their abundance of alcoholic drinks, dance music and beautiful girls. Such abuse of status has created much animosity in Iran. In a country where the gap between the rich and poor is widening, some politicians, especially young conservative war veterans, who include Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, have decided to do the opposite. They live in simple houses and drive bottom-of-the-range cars. Saeed Jalili, Iran's top nuclear negotiator, is one of them. His status symbol is his beaten up, Korean-made KIA Pride, which is one of the cheapest cars assembled and sold in Iran. JALILI AND Ahmadinejad belong to a generation of conservative war veterans who see the Iranian nuclear program not only as an important tool to confront the West, but also as a status symbol to take on their internal rivals from the reformist and pragmatist camps. In fact, in many cases, their internal goals and motivations exceed those of their external concerns. The election of Ahmadinejad in June 2005 was hailed as a victory for the non-clergy conservatives. For the first time, Iran had a president who unlike his predecessors had fought in the war, was well educated and had worked his way up from lowly administrative positions. He was the man who the conservatives hoped would dismantle Rafsanjani's multimillion dollar empire and would send the flashy agha zadehs packing. Ahmadinejad was the man they hoped would reverse the inflation and unemployment problems created by Rafsanjani and made worse during Khatami's reign. Three years after entering office, Ahmadinejad has failed to deliver on all of his promises. The nuclear program is all that he has left. His old friend Jalili, as the general secretary of the Supreme National Security Council has the ear of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and is Ahmadinejad's point man in the nuclear program. Jalili and Ahmadinejad believe that by not negotiating with the West, they will weaken Iran's pragmatists and reformists, who are concerned about Iran becoming more isolated. This way Ahmadinejad hopes his chances of reelection next year will increase. For now Khamenei, Iran's ultimate decision-maker, seems to back the advice of Jalili. Judging by reports from the July 22 edition of Jomhuriye Eslami newspaper, which is considered to be Khamenei's mouthpiece in Iran, Teheran is going to turn down the EU's recent incentives package. Iran's nuclear program and Iran's legal right to produce energy, are being sacrificed by the government's uncompromising stance, and not just by the actions of the West, as some Iranian officials claim. Khamenei, who is a pragmatic politician must realize that people like Jalili are only after the political welfare of conservatives. His advice could have long lasting damaging impact on the welfare of the regime and Iranians, as refusal to accept the EU incentives package will make it easier for the West to impose tougher sanctions or even justify an attack. Compromise is not a dirty word. The people of Iran have compromised and sacrificed enough through a bloody revolution, and even a bloodier war against Saddam Hussein's invading army. Its time for the government to follow suit. Instead of listening to the advice of inexperienced and belligerent conservatives such as Jalili, Khamenei should send him home, in his Pride. The writer is the coauthor of The Nuclear Sphinx of Tehran: Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the State of Iran. He also runs the Middle East Economic and Political Analysis Company- his email is