Domestic political pressure spiked Ahmadinjad’s Fuel Swap push

A WikiLeaks cable reported this week suggested that the main Iranian obstacle to striking a nuclear fuel swap deal with the West was not the deal itself (or the Western countries involved), but internal Iranian politics.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad took heat from his right flank on the issue during a 2009 push for the deal, reportedly telling Turkish interlocutors (who recounted the point to U.S. diplomats) that “the core of the issue is psychological rather than substance… The Iranians agree to the proposal but need to manage the public perception.”

The website EA Worldview also covered the cable:

Ahmadinejad’s barrier to this mission was not the Americans. Instead he faced “serious domestic problems inside Iran… The Turks actually see Ahmadinejad as ‘more flexible’ than others who are inside the Iranian Government.”

A fuel swap deal in which Iran would ship some of its nuclear material abroad for ready-made fuel for a medical reactor has long been bandied about as a confidence-building measure to de-escalate Iran’s nuclear standoff with the West. In the run-up to the latest round of U.N. Security Council sanctions on Iran, a group of foreign policy heavyweights called a Brazilian and Turkish mediated deal a “first step,” but the U.S. rejected the deal in favor of pursuing sanctions.

Whether or not one views Ahmadinejad’s recent assertiveness as a good thing, this cable shows that his consolidation of political power might, contrary to early assessments, actually make a fuel swap agreement easier for the president to broker.

All of this is to say that, while it ain’t exactly the stars aligning, the U.S. should take the opportunity of talks this month — as I’ve argued before — to try to revive the confidence-building measure and de-escalate the tense standoff with Iran.

Ali Gharib

Ali Gharib is a New York-based journalist on U.S. foreign policy with a focus on the Middle East and Central Asia. His work has appeared at Inter Press Service, where he was the Deputy Washington Bureau Chief; the Buffalo Beast; Huffington Post; Mondoweiss; Right Web; and Alternet. He holds a Master's degree in Philosophy and Public Policy from the London School of Economics and Political Science. A proud Iranian-American and fluent Farsi speaker, Ali was born in California and raised in D.C.