Former Ambassador's assessment of ‘irrational' regime

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his regime were more “irrational” than what the world knew them to be, said K.C. Singh, former Indian Ambassador to Tehran, according to a cable sent by the U.S. Embassy in New Delhi on December 15, 2005 (47728: secret). Mr. Singh was Ambassador to Iran from 2003 to the latter part of 2005.

Observing that Iran is “‘propelled by paranoia,' and that the fear was enhanced by the US presence in Afghanistan and Iraq,” the former Ambassador cautioned: “If the Western world applies pressure” the Iranians “will rally behind Ahmadinejad.” Such a response, however, would not be a reflection of any popular support for the President as “most of the people disapprove of his fervor for religious influence throughout society and government.”

But the “Persian response to threats” would push Iranians to back Mr. Ahmadinejad in a confrontation with outsiders, Mr. Singh added.

The Political Counselor of the U.S. Embassy in New Delhi made an “introductory call” on Mr. Singh immediately after his return from the Tehran assignment and after he took charge as Additional Secretary (UN and International Security) in the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA). At that meeting, apprising the diplomat of what he described as the “Persian mentality,” Mr. Singh said Mr. Ahmadinejad fervently anticipated “the imminent return of the prophesied twelfth Shia imam,” Muhammad al-Mahdi, who was born in the 9th century.

According to Mr. Singh, this fervour had made the President “prone to respond to threats by acting as a martyr.”

The Shiites believed that Muhammad al-Mahdi, the twelfth imam, voluntarily went into hiding after his birth and would return ‘before the end of history,' to save humanity from the evil forces that threaten it.

The cable, sent under the name of Ambassador David Mulford, documented in detail Mr. Singh's perception of the Iranian regime and his suggestions to deal with it, including those which appeared to be in “disagreement with government [of India] policy.”

Mr. Singh explained that Mr. Ahmadinejad not only believes in the imminent return of the twelfth Shia imam, but also told those who accompanied him to the opening of a UN General Assembly meeting held in September 2005, that he “felt his presence.”

Mr. Singh also cited an instance where the entire Cabinet “drafted a resolution addressed to the twelfth imam, and dropped it in a well in Qom, where petitions to al-Mahdi are traditionally deposited.”

Qom is an important pilgrimage centre, and Iran is building a uranium enrichment facility near it.

If Western governments wanted to effectively deal with such an irrational regime and wean the Iranian people from their support to its nuclear programme, the U.S. must first understand the “Persian mentality,” Mr. Singh advised.

In order to deal with this regime, the U.S. should either peacefully engage with it or apply force, “but not alternate between engagement and threats,” Mr. Singh suggested. In his opinion, the Russians seemed to have understood the situation better. They have been able to slowly apply pressure “to encourage Iran to accept its compromise solution to dispel the IAEA crisis.”

The U.S. diplomats found Mr. Singh to be a “breath of fresh air” in the MEA, and his comments on Iran to be “a surprisingly clear window into the flavor of politics in Tehran from a diplomat who has enjoyed good access to Iranian leaders.”

(This article is a part of the series "The India Cables" based on the US diplomatic cables accessed by The Hindu via WikiLeaks.)