As the Islamic Republic of Iran continues
its dangerous pursuit of nuclear technology, it appears more and more that a rift may be developing between President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Supreme Ayatollah Khamenei. The president has been conspicuously missing from the presidential palace this week after disagreeing with the Ayatollah over one of his ministers. Back in December, Ahmadinejad unexpectedly fired
his foreign minister, a favorite of the Ayatollah (the president replaced him with the head of Iran's nuclear agency, signifying the regime's defiance in the nuclear issue). Last week, he asked his intelligence minister to resign-- and was overruled when the Ayatollah
, who is considered the supreme leader in the so-called republic, reinstated the intelligence minister. Ahmadinejad has not appeared in any official capacity since, leading one Iranian conservative lawmaker to remark that "the president was sulking."
Over the past year it seems that there has been a struggle over who controls Iranian foreign policy, which the Ayatollah traditionally liked to maintain a leash on and the president wants more power over. The madman's power grabs are, according to some, likely causing the Ayatollah to double-think his support of Ahmadinejad in the disputed 2009 elections. Lately the Revolutionary Guard has backed the hardline regime rather than the ruling clerics, but in this incident even commanders within that organization have asked Ahmadinejad to comply with the Ayatollah's wishes. Some conservatives in the Iranian parliament are preparing impeachment proceedings against Ahmadinejad. All of this comes as Ahmadinejad has his eyes on the 2012 parliamentary elections and is trying to groom a successor, probably former chief-of-staff Esfandiar Mashaei, to eventually take his place in the palace. It is well-known that the Ayatollah does not like Mashaei and forced the politician
, who is also Ahmadinejad's son-in-law, out of his position a few weeks ago.
Of course the Ayatollah is downplaying his disagreements with the president. Both parties in the dispute are dangerous, dictatorial hardliners, though admittedly it appears that the Ayatollah is not as extreme as Ahmadinejad in his foreign policy antagonisms. The best case scenario is that the growing split might be able to weaken the hardline coalition and allow the opposition to gain some power-- and, God willing, split the Revolutionary Guard's support between the two men. A more likely case is that Ahmadinejad will eventually have to bow to the supreme leader, which just may bring a slightly less-antagonistic approach to Iranian foreign policy.