Jalili thrusts Iran nuclear stance to center of presidential race

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The presidential campaign of Iran’s top nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili has thrust Iran’s nuclear policies to the center of Iran’s tumultuous presidential race.

Jalili, in a series of media interviews, appearances and campaign Twitter posts this week, doubled down on Tehran’s hardline stance in negotiations with six world powers, asserting that as president he would “accelerate Iran’s peaceful nuclear program.”

“Our nuclear objective is very legitimate & reasonable: To accelerate developing the peaceful Nuclear program,” Jalili’s official campaign Twitter feed wrote Friday.

Jalili, the secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, then took a swipe at key challenger, former Iranian president Hashemi Rafsanjani. “Other policies will be seriously criticized [and the] current nuclear approach… defended,” Jalili’s campaign vowed on Twitter. [We] “shall see what [is] Mr. Rafsanjani’s policy.”

Jalili’s message seems notably targeted to one key audience at this point: Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei, Iran watchers observed.

Jalili’s message of “resistance–political resistance, economic resistance–that feeds the narrative of the Supreme Leader,” said Iran political analyst Yasmin Alem, in an interview Thursday. It may resonate less, however, she added, with the average Iranian voter.

Jalili’s message “might resonate with Khamenei,” Trita Parsi, president of the National Iranian American Council and author of A Single Role of the Dice, agreed Friday. “That’s the ‘voter’ whose vote he wants.”

“The fact that [the Jalili campaign writes] it in English is the point: he will be the president who will say this to the westerners,” Parsi added.

“Most of the main candidates”—Tehran mayor Mohammad Qalibaf, former foreign minister and foreign policy advisor to the Supreme Leader Ali Akbar Velayati, former Majles speaker Haddad Adel, and Jalili—“are campaigning not for the Iranian electorate’s votes, but for the approval of Ayatollah Khamenei and the Revolutionary Guards,” Alireza Nader, an Iran analyst at the Rand Corporation, observed Friday. In his opinion, he said, that portends that June 14th will mark “the least democratic election” since Iran’s 1979 Islamic revolution.

If the Guardian Council approves his candidacy, “Ayatollah Rafsanjani is the closest thing to an alternative in this election,” Nader added.

The Guardian Council said Thursday it will announce the final slate of candidates approved to run on Tuesday, May 21st.

There’s a tremendous “ambiguity” around Jalili right now, observed Hossein Shahbazi, an Iran expert, in an interview with the Back Channel Thursday. Aspects of his presidential campaign suggest Jalili is aiming for the base that supported Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in his 2005 presidential campaign, Shahbazi said.

But Jalili has not yet demonstrated commanding some of the qualities that gave Ahmadinejad appeal to those constituencies, including a dynamic persona and populist speaking ability, nor Ahmadinejad’s record of serving as Tehran mayor, Shahbazi said. Jalili’s other challenge is that “Ahmadinejad’s former political backers who could have supported him are now divided,” Shahbazi said.

And while conservatives are divided, he noted, reformers and moderates appear to be consolidating behind Rafsanjani.

(Photo: Saeed Jalili, Iran’s top nuclear negotiator, walks with European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton at the Iranian Consulate in Istanbul May 15, 2013. Via Press TV.)

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