Interviewing Ahmadinejad in Shiraz
I’ve been in Iran for the last couple of days.
I have been applying for a period of months for an interview with President Ahmadinejad had twice been refused and was settling down for the Christmas break, or the prospect of it, when I was contacted from Tehran and told I would have an interview yesterday.
No sooner had I landed in Tehran than President Ahmadinejad was lifting off in his presidential plane to Shiraz in the south of the country.
It gave me a chance to revisit the bureaucracy, the paranoia, the exceptional capability of so many people you meet and the parlous underperformance of what should be a brilliant state.
Officially inflation is running at 15 per cent, unofficially it’s 25 per cent. Amid all the talk of emerging economies this ought to be one and isn’t.
Everything continues to work, just. But you feel it’s down to the persistent ingenuity of the Iranians themselves and no thanks to any kind of an administration.
The revolutionary guard have seized still more of the economic drivers and thoroughly enriched themselves in the process.
The thuggish Basij stalk the streets and yet there is an overall sense of calm and businesses as usual. Even though everybody knows there is turmoil at all sorts of levels in all sorts of places – in the Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri’s home town of Najafabad
The opposition is disparate, but in the safety of the departure lounge people came up to me to express despair and to speak of 80 per cent of the population loathing the current setup.
To make up for our long journey to find him the presidents aides had setup a grandiose setting for our interview. The gorgeous shrine of the great 14th Century Persian poet Hafeez.
A platform was built, flowers were arranged even chocolates and stuffed dates were on hand. There’s always the fear that the stuffed dates are going to get the better of you and lead to a soft soap encounter.
You don’t see Ahmadinejad in the first flash of his arrival at the shine. A phalanx of other men obliterate his presence and then there he is in his open neck shirt and jacket and he’s sitting in front of me.
He admits to some trouble. Dismisses any question of a nuclear deadline or threats of UN sanctions and whatever the trouble has been at home he seems oblivious of the rising discontent.
But he’s probably right in claiming that nothing very dramatic is going to happen at home at least in the immediate future.
It’s an intriguing interview and at the end of it the smiles on the faces of his aides have turned something approaching discomfort if I can put it diplomatically.
Within three hours we are airborne and out and I worry how long it will be before I will ever be allowed in again.
It’s a sad place to leave and it never gets any better each time you do so.
After the interview ended the president then relayed to me his Christmas message – he speaks extensively of the ‘prophet Jesus Christ’ and of how those who believe in him should continue to do so.
He offers the prospect the son of God will return in some immaculate moment that will include his own favourite prospective returnee, the 12th Imam (sometimes described as the Hidden Imam) – it was the aura from this thought that the president referred to when he described feeling his presence in the chamber of the UN in New York.
Anyway I think we can say it was happy Christmas from him and perhaps I could humbly add from me as well, although I look forwards to engaging with you in the usual way on Xmas day. A short but sweet offering at 7.40pm