Ahmadinejad's Last Speech To U.N. Milder Than Usual

Melissa Block speaks with Karim Sadjadpour, a Middle East expert with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. They discuss Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's final speech at the UN General Assembly on Wednesday and what the future holds for him. Ahmadinejad's second term as president ends next year.

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MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

For more on Ahmadinejad's speech and the dynamics of political power in Iran, I'm joined by analyst Karim Sadjadpour, who specializes in Iranian politics and society. He's with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Welcome to the program.

KARIM SADJADPOUR: Thank you, Melissa.

BLOCK: We heard Ahmadinejad today make a point of saying that this was his eighth time speaking before the general assembly. Did you hear anything different in this swan song speech, either in tone or in content, than you've heard before?

SADJADPOUR: Well, you know, Melissa, Ahmadinejad had been so explicitly offensive in previous speeches at the U.N. that this time his somewhat more implicitly offensive speech appeared almost statesman-like for Ahmadinejad's standards. So I think, you know, his term is going to end in June of 2013. His time will be up, and it appears he's now positioning himself to be kind of a global political figure, the Bill Clinton of the Islamist anti-imperialist world.

BLOCK: Let's talk about how Ahmadinejad fits within the power structure in Iran - his role compared with, say, the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei or the Revolutionary Guards.

SADJADPOUR: Ahmadinejad has long been a figurehead. The president of Iran is more of a figurehead position, and in his first term in office, from 2005 to 2009, I would argue that he had more authority simply because the Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei, thought he was kind of a useful political tool for the Supreme Leader against Khamenei's internal opponents. Ahmadinejad was tough against the United States. He was intransigent on the nuclear issue. But I think what happened in Ahmadinejad's second term was the fact that he was seeking more power than he had. He wasn't content with merely being a loyal lieutenant to the Supreme Leader. For that reason, there was this somewhat mild power struggle which ensued, but he's really no match for the Supreme Leader. So, you know, to use American political parlance, Ahmadinejad has long been a lame duck who doesn't really have any authority on the matters of major import for the United States, whether that's the nuclear issue or Iran's role in the Middle East.

BLOCK: What do you see happening next year when Ahmadinejad's term is up?

SADJADPOUR: You know, I think that usually popular uprisings happen in countries when the population has expectations which are suddenly raised and then suddenly dashed. And when I look at the Iranian population right now, I see a population which is incredibly dissatisfied with their political economics, social circumstances. But they don't really have high expectations that the system can reform itself.

So I see even a farcical presidential election, and I think we should take the word election with a chunk of salt. It's much more of a selection than it is an election. But I think very few people have any expectations that this is going to be a free and fair election.

BLOCK: And in terms of the geopolitics between Iran and the United States post-Ahmadinejad, any change, any shift there?

SADJADPOUR: I don't see the presidential elections in Iran portending a shift in U.S./Iran relations because ultimately, the Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei, will remain in charge. And this is a guy who has come to see opposition to the United States as a fundamental tenet of the Iranian revolution. And I think this then portends a challenge for any U.S. administration, whether it's Obama or it's Romney.

And that is that how do you reach some type of a diplomatic accommodation with a regime in Tehran that needs you as an adversary for their own ideological legitimacy.

BLOCK: What happens to Ahmadinejad after he's done as president? What does his life become?

SADJADPOUR: I think he's going to be someone who is going to be difficult to shut up. He's now kind of drunk with the limelight. When I talk to my psychiatrist friends they say that Ahmandinejad is a severe narcissist. He loves the limelight, but at the end of the day I don't see him with strong political backers in Iran, whether amongst the population or the powerful revolutionary guards. So I don't see him playing an outsized role in Iranian politics post-2013.

It will be interesting to see how the regime manages to sideline him or keep his mouth shut because I think when and if they attempt to do that, he's someone who will sling a lot of mud. And I think one thing which he does have is embarrassing intelligence, embarrassing information about, you know, the corrupt practices of some of Iran's political elite. And they may have to bribe him somehow with, you know, an important political post to get him to stay quiet.

BLOCK: I've been taking with Karim Sadjadpour, senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace here in Washington. Thanks so much.

SADJADPOUR: Anytime, Melissa, thank you.

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