In the wake of the U.S. withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal and dwindling hopes the agreement can be salvaged with the help of European powers, former Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who oversaw preparations for the initial talks, is trying to distance himself from the deal, which is now widely seen as a failure in Iran.
Ahmadinejad published a letter May 11 saying at first he opposed the nuclear talks between his country and the P5+1 group of world powers—the U.S., UK, France, China, Russia, and Germany, which began in Oman in 2014 under President Hassan Rouhani.
“When the negotiations with the United States were supposed to start in Oman, I said at a meeting with the senior officials of the country that at a time when the enemy assumes it has the upper hand and the sanctions have been effective, talks will harm the country,” Ahmadinejad wrote, claiming he had favored waiting six more months in order to improve the country’s economic situation by implementing his economic policy and enter the negotiations in a stronger position.
“I even declared that I was ready to offer my family as collateral, and if my plans were not successful, you can execute myself and my family,” Ahmadinejad said, adding that his proposal was rejected by “some officials and branches of government.”
However, the foreign minister at the time, Aliakbar Salehi, has previously said in interviews that Ahmadinejad neither obstructed nor encouraged the talks with Washington, but merely warned they could be dangerous if they fail. He has also said that the preparations for the talks, which started toward the end of Ahmadinejad’s presidency, took place with the full endorsement of the Supreme Leader, who has also begun distancing himself from the deal.
Ahmadinejad, a man famous for his extreme, apocalyptic ideas and despised by many traditional Shiite scholars, was once a favorite of the Supreme Leader. On many occasions Khamenei praised him as an “honest” man who “genuinely” serves his country. He even alienated some of his close allies and powerful clerics such as the former President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani by siding with some of Ahmadinejad’s more radical positions.
In his second term as president, however, Ahmadinejad began to assert his independence from Khamenei, which strained their relationship. The peak of tensions between the two came in May 2011 when Ahmadinejad fired his Intelligence Minister Heidar Moslehi, a decision that was overruled by Khamenei. Moslehi was reinstated and Ahmadinejad refused to go to work for 10 days in protest.
These types of power struggles, along with the fact that Ahmadinejad’s controversial 2009 reelection had sparked the Green Movement, which brought the regime to the brink of collapse, led the Supreme Leader to oppose Ahmadinejad’s candidacy in the 2017 presidential election. The former president threw his hat in the ring anyway, but was disqualified by the Guardian Council, a clerical body loyal to Khamenei and in charge with vetting candidates.
Since then, Ahmadinejad has been increasingly critical of the Supreme Leader. The discord between the former allies escalated recently when two of Ahmadinejad’s former deputies, Hamid Baghaei and Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei were arrested on corruption charges. Baghaei has been ordered to pay $11 million and sentenced to 15 years in prison, and Mashaei is awaiting his trial.