- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 17, 2007

TEHRAN — Conservatives and reformists are openly challenging President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s hard-line nuclear diplomacy — an unusual agreement across Iran’s political spectrum — with many saying his provocative remarks have increasingly isolated their country.

The U.N. Security Council voted unanimously last month to impose sanctions on Iran for refusing to halt uranium enrichment. Some critics view the sanctions as an indication that Iran must change its policy.

After a year of silence, reformists are demanding that Iran dispel fears that it is seeking to build atomic weapons, pressing for a return to the enrichment suspension policy under President Mohammed Khatami. Uranium enrichment can produce the material for either nuclear reactors or bombs.

“Resisting the U.N. Security Council resolution will put us in a more isolated position,” said the Islamic Iran Participation Front, the largest reformist party.

Mr. Ahmadinejad’s popularity already was weakened after his close conservative allies were defeated last month in local elections, which were widely seen as a referendum on his 18 months in power.

Even some conservatives warn that his confrontational tactics are backfiring.

“Your language is so offensive … that it shows that the nuclear issue is being dealt with a sort of stubbornness,” the hard-line daily Jomhuri-e-Eslami said in an editorial.

Some lawmakers on both sides of the political spectrum are considering impeaching Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki if the Security Council approves more resolutions against Iran.

“That all 15 members of the Security Council unanimously voted, against the claim by our diplomatic apparatus that there was no unanimity against Iran, shows the weakness of our diplomatic apparatus,” said Noureddin Pirmoazzen, a reformist lawmaker.

Despite the criticism, Mr. Ahmadinejad has remained defiant, escalating Iran’s nuclear standoff with the United States and its allies. He has refused to suspend enrichment, even under pressure from Iran’s trade allies Russia and China. Iran denies U.S. assertions that it is secretly trying to build a bomb.

On Saturday, Mr. Ahmadinejad met with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, a fellow U.S. critic, at the start of a Latin America tour — his second such visit in four months. Critics say the trip was partly aimed at diverting attention from the disapproval at home.

Mr. Ahmadinejad also has distanced some of his conservative base by calling for Israel to be “wiped off the map” and hosting a conference last month that cast doubt on the Holocaust. Many feel he has spent too much time defying the West and too little tackling Iran’s domestic issues.

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