Iran’s new president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, has placed the military firmly in control of his nation’s nuclear program, undercutting his government’s claim that the program is intended for civilian use, according to a leading opposition group.
Leaders of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), the force created specifically to defend the 1979 Islamic revolution, now dominate Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, the country’s top foreign policy-making body under the constitution.
Mr. Ahmadinejad, a little-known former mayor of Tehran before his surprise election in July, is a former IRGC commander, as is new council Secretary-General Ali Larijani, who has taken the lead in negotiations about Iran’s nuclear programs.
Revolutionary Guard commanders also have taken charge of the council’s internal security, strategy and political posts, according to a report issued by the Paris-based National Council of Resistance of Iran. A Revolutionary Guard veteran even serves as the council’s press spokesman.
“The military under the new president is firmly in control of the nuclear program and the nuclear negotiations with the United Nations and the West,” said Mohammad Mohaddessin, chairman of the NCRI’s foreign affairs committee, in a telephone interview yesterday.
The personnel changes “make it less and less credible that Iran is pursuing nuclear programs for peaceful uses,” he said.
The report, which also tracks Iran’s extensive nuclear infrastructure and technical programs, charges that Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamanei has turned to IRGC personnel in order to “eliminate all bureaucratic and political obstacles to obtaining nuclear weapons.”
Iran, which claims the right to pursue a civilian nuclear program to meet its domestic energy needs, is in intense negotiations with European Union powers France, Britain and Germany over the fate of its nuclear programs.
The Bush administration is deeply skeptical of Tehran’s ambitions. The board of the U.N.’s nuclear watchdog agency last month threatened to refer Iran to the U.N. Security Council for possible sanctions if it does not allow tight international oversight of its programs.
The NCRI is the political arm of the People’s Mujahadeen, a secular Iranian bloc that broke violently with the Islamic leaders of the revolution shortly after the ouster of the U.S.-backed Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi.
The opposition group has had a checkered and at times contradictory role. Branded a terrorist group by U.S. and European governments, it also has proven to be the single best intelligence source on Iran’s clandestine nuclear programs, exposing in recent years massive research and testing sites inside Iran unknown to U.N. and Western monitors.
But other analysts also have reported a wave of senior appointments for Iran’s military, especially from within the more ideological forces under the direct control of the ruling Islamic clerics.
Houchang Hassan-Yari, a political scientist at the Royal Military College of Canada, noted in a recent analysis that current and former members of the IRGC now can be found throughout Iran’s political and administrative bureaucracy, from lawmakers in parliament to mayors, university officials and even managers of some of Iran’s biggest business concerns.
The corps is “on the verge of being transformed from a junior player in the country’s military defense to a key factor in the country’s military and security doctrine — a rise that could come at the [traditional] army’s expense,” he noted.
Bill Samii, an Iranian analyst for Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, said a key factor in Mr. Ahmadinejad’s surprise presidential election was the support of the Basij Resistance Force, a paramilitary force with extensive links to the Revolutionary Guards Corps.
The new president, with virtually no experience in foreign affairs when he was elected, named a senior Basij leader as a top adviser just after assuming office in August.