THE man whose power is such that he claims he will “wipe Israel off the map” has just encountered a stronger force than his own. Yesterday the Iranian parliament, the Majalis, rejected President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's nomination for the post of oil minister; Mohsen Tasalloti, although an oil company executive, was considered to be unsuitable for the job for a variety of reasons and two-thirds of the Majalis voted against his appointment even though President Ahmadinejad defended him in person. The rebuff to the new President's authority was worse than it might seem; Tasalloti was the third of his candidates for the job to be turned down by the parliamentarians. One reflection on this event might be that President Bush and President Ahmadinejad have more in common than seems likely at first glance. Mr Bush has had his nominations for senior posts rejected by the US Senate and has withdrawn others when it was only too apparent that they would not survive the approval hearings. These things happen in democracies. Not that the United States considers Iran to be a democracy even though President Ahmadinejad was elected by popular vote. There was also a more serious development over Iran yesterday when the United States said it had decided not to press the International Atomic Energy Agency to refer Iran's nuclear activities to the United Nations Security Council. This is a positive and welcome move because any such reference would have divided the 35-member board of the Agency and created similar divisions in the Security Council. This change of mind by the US has come about mainly because of the prospects for getting China and Russia to use their influence to persuade Iran not to move to the stage of enriching uranium and thus make possible the manufacture of nuclear weapons. Russia has actually offered to enrich uranium in its own plants for Iran's peaceful nuclear programme. Negotiating with Iran is not easy but Britain, France and Germany have been right to insist it is a better course to take than confrontation. Iran has few reasons to be sympathetic towards the West. It will take time to achieve mutual confidence but it will be time well spent.


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