47728 12/15/2005 9:12 05 NEWDELHI 9421 Embassy New Delhi SECRET 05ASHGABAT1327 "This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available." "S E C R E T SECTION 01 OF 04 NEW DELHI 009421
DEPT FOR NEA, SA
E.O. 12958: DECL: 12/13/2015 TAGS: PREL, PGOV, KNNP, PINR, IN, IR, India_Iran SUBJECT: AHMADINEJAD'S IRRATIONALITY: AN INDIAN AMBASSADOR'S PERSPECTIVE
REF: ASHGABAT 1327
Classified By: DCM Robert O. Blake for Reasons 1.4 (B, D)
1. (C) Summary: During PolCouns's introductory call on new MEA Additional Secretary (UN and International Security) KC Singh, Singh shared his impressions from his recent posting as India's Ambassador in Tehran, emphasizing that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's perspective is skewed by his fervent anticipation of the imminent return of the prophesied twelfth Shia imam, making him prone to respond to threats by acting as a martyr. The irrational nature of Iran's new regime requires a different approach from the current strategies of the US and EU-3, Singh argued. Biographical information on Singh, a capable diplomat who may yet rise to the top of the MEA, is included. End Summary.
Ahmadinejad Waiting for the 12th Imam
2. (C) Sharing his impressions from his latest assignment as Ambassador to Iran (2003-05), Singh told us that Ahmadinejad is more radical and irrational than the world initially believed. It appears that he has ""taken even the Supreme Leader for a ride,"" he continued, because Ahmadinejad's true religious loyalty lies with Ayatollah Mesbah Yazdi, an arch-conservative imam in the Qom seminary. Ahmadinejad believes in the imminent prophesied return of the twelfth Shia imam (Mohammad al-Mahdi, born in the ninth century), Singh said, and even told those accompanying him to the opening of the UNGA Summit in September that he ""felt his presence"" there. Singh told us that he met with Ahmadinejad in January 2005 when he was the mayor of Tehran and a long-shot candidate for the presidency. Since then, Singh has fielded repeated queries from Iranians asking if it is true that Ahmadinejad told Singh that the ""resolution of the nuclear issue does not matter because the twelfth imam will return soon."" Although the story is untrue, Singh said, it is telling that so many Iranians are ready to believe that their President had said it. In fact, he continued, Ahmadinejad's cabinet recently drafted a resolution addressed to the twelfth imam, and dropped it in a well in Qom, where petitions to al-Mahdi are traditionally deposited.
""Persian Mentality"" Responds Badly to Pressure
3. (C) Singh summarized the impasse over Iran's nuclear program as a ""paradox."" Resolving the problem of its nuclear program means helping Tehran feel secure, he said, but how could Iran feel secure without its nuclear program? Iran is ""propelled by paranoia,"" and that fear is enhanced by the US presence in Afghanistan and Iraq. The threats are both real and imagined, he elaborated, because in the ""Shia mind"" the presence of threats recalls the betrayal of Hassan and Hussein in the seventh century. In response to perceived threats, the ""Persian mentality"" resorts to a martyr mode, and Iran's leaders would provoke confrontation under this influence instead of rationally turning away.
4. (C) One thing is clear, Singh emphasized: if the Western world applies pressure to Iran, its population will rally behind Ahmadinejad. Ahmadinejad has encountered resistance since taking office, and most of the people disapprove of his fervor for religious influence throughout society and government, Singh said. However, he continued, although Ahmadinejad emerged as the leader because of economic dissatisfaction, not true popular support, the irrational Persian response to threats means that Iranians will now back him in a confrontation with outsiders.
5. (C) Singh argued that the US and the West must choose between completely peaceful engagement or application of force, but not alternate between engagement and threats. Citing former NSA Brzezinski's analysis of the failure of the Shah's regime to act with consistency, he said that verbal threats only ""inoculate"" the population against the threat, and force the Iranian regime to ""mutate"" into something more dangerous. Perhaps the Russians understand the Iranian mind best, he mused, approving of Russia's slow application of pressure to encourage Iran to accept its compromise solution to dispel the IAEA crisis. Pushing harder, Singh continued, would only propel Iran's leaders into the ""martyr mode.""
Enough of a Democracy to be Unpredictable
6. (C) Although the election of Ahmadinejad is a reaction to the reformist trend of the 1990s, the population has ""overcorrected,"" Singh said. Most people oppose his hard-line philosophy. The population is not anti-US, he continued, but is rather in need of help as the people of Iran are victimized by the regime. He predicted that Iran was not on the course to ""Indian or Western-style"" democracy, but left to itself would retain the Supreme Leader. Nevertheless, Iran is ""enough of a democracy"" that a ""rabble-rouser"" can rally popular support in a situation of stress. Thus, outside countries need to ""wean"" the Iranian population away from their widespread support for the nuclear program in a way that does not allow hard-liners like Ahmadinejad to use patriotism or the martyr sentiment to solidify their position, Singh suggested. Western nations should use a softer approach to the nuclear issue -- to ""address the Persian mind"" -- or else the entire population will ""nurse a hurt"" against the West.
Indian Influence on Iran's WMD Ambitions
7. (S) PolCouns emphasized our hope that India will use its influence in Tehran
affirmatively to steer the country away from the abyss. Clarifying that he spoke personally and not in his official capacity, Singh responded that India's role in resolving the nuclear issue would have been greater had New Delhi abstained in the September 24 IAEA vote. The Iranian reaction has been emotional, he emphasized, with ordinary Iranians asking visiting Indians why they let Iran down. As a result, India's influence has been weakened. Singh related an encounter with Javad Larijani, the brother of nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani, at a seminar on the IAEA vote. Larijani highlighted India and Israel in discussing states that have remained outside of the NPT, Singh said, pointedly omitting Pakistan as a way to slight India. Singh emphasized that Larijani would not have grouped India with Iran's arch-enemy Israel if not for India's vote. Nevertheless, he added, it appears that Iranian leaders have ""internalized"" their disappointment for now and will avoid a public rift with India, as they still hope New Delhi could provide support in future battles on the same issue.
COMMENT: A Good Contact
8. (S) Singh's comments on Iran are a surprisingly clear window into the flavor of politics in Tehran from a diplomat who has enjoyed good access to Iranian leaders. His willingness to air his disagreement with government policy as a point of friendly discussion, without grousing or complaining, is a surprise in the MEA bureaucracy. We hope that our future interactions with this senior GOI official will be as frank and useful as this discussion.
9. (C) COMMENT CONTINUED: Singh's forthcoming conversation is an optimistic signal for productive cooperation in the important and wide-ranging portfolio that he covers. In addition to leading the Counter-terrorism Joint Working Group with S/CT Hank Crumpton (septel), Singh will be our ranking operational interlocutor on other areas of US priorities, including non-proliferation and UN issues.
10. (SBU) Singh is an articulate and polished speaker. In addition to his assignments as Ambassador to Iran (2003-05) and the UAE (1999-2003), Singh has served two tours as a Joint Secretary in the MEA, first as the MEA's Spokesperson (1992-96) and then in the Consular, Passport and Visa Division (1996-98). He had previous assignments in Ankara, New York, and Cairo, and also served in the office of the President of India Giani Zail Singh (1983-87). Singh is a Sikh, born May 30, 1948, and speaks English, Hindi, Urdu and Punjabi. He holds a master's degree in English literature and an LL.B. degree.
11. (C) Singh is a breath of fresh air in this office for his candor and forthright manner. In Tehran he was noted for his advocacy of expanding strategic and energy cooperation with Iran. Although we do not know how much longer he will remain in the MEA bureaucracy, this obviously sharp and capable diplomat is of a caliber to aspire to the office of Foreign Secretary, following the path of many previous Secretaries who have done their turn as spokesperson. The
SIPDIS good news for us is that Singh, unlike his predecessor, appears fully attuned to the new, collaborative dynamic of US-India relations.
12. (U) Visit New Delhi's Classified Website: (http://www.state.sgov.gov/p/sa/newdelhi/)