Ahmadinejad’s Pen Pals

Hussein-McMahon, Jefferson-Adams, Catherine the Great-Voltaire. These are just a few of the famous (or in some cases, infamous) correspondences between world leaders throughout history. Perhaps former Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is looking to add his name to this list…or maybe he just wants a pen pal.

The controversial ex-president made headlines in Iran and around the world earlier this week with the publication — in Persian and English — on his website of a sprawling, nearly 3500-word letter to President Trump. As with most things Ahmadinejad, the content of the letter is long on rhetoric and short on substance. He begins by introducing himself as a fellow statesman, humble religious servant, and as “the son of the great, civilizing and culture-making nation of Iran.” He then launches into his main points, rehashing familiar hardline Iranian talking points about American meddling in the sovereign affairs of other nations, the “arrogance” of U.S. leaders, and American responsibility for creating “most of the known terrorist groups across the contemporary world.”

Later, he makes some vague appeals for the reduction of international armaments, support for the United Nations, and, somewhat laughable given the author, respect for women’s rights. He even quotes a verse from the famous Iranian poet Saadi to emphasize the concept of our shared humanity.

This is not the first time that Ahmadinejad has written an open letter to a world leader. In fact, he clearly has an affinity for the practice. He sent a flurry of them in 2006, first to President George W. Bush and later to German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Both included some elements of Holocaust denial, one of Ahmadinejad’s favorite – and most ridiculed – themes. He ended that year with an open letter to the American people in which he extensively questioned the logic behind American support for the State of Israel. He asked what the American people have received for their government’s willingness to “blindly support these infamous [Zionist] aggressors.” Ten years later, now out of power, he wrote another open letter to an American President, this time Barack Obama, condemning the decision in an American legal case that resulted in the seizure of Iranian financial assets.

The most recent letter to Trump excluded any reference to “Zionists” or the Holocaust and was noticeably friendlier in its tone than the ones Ahmadinejad penned as president. Some outside observers have pointed to his repeated use of the term “your excellency” in the English translation as a kind of commentary on Trump’s imperial nature, but this is overblown. He used similarly idiosyncratic language in the past.

Realistically, it is unlikely that this is anything more than a publicity stunt from the ex-President, who has seen his political fortunes wane in Iran ever since leaving office in 2013. Talk of a presidential comeback simmered for a period last year, but in September 2016, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei — with whom Ahmadinejad has had a long-running feud dating back to his second term in office — emphatically ruled out the possibility of his running to reclaim the office. This led the media to shift their attention from Ahmadinejad himself to prognosticating about who might stand as a type of proxy-candidate for him. Current speculation points to one of his former vice presidents, Hamid Baghaei, as the most likely candidate.

Author: Jonathan Leslie

PhD candidate at School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) in London.

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