Monday, October 10, 2005

Iran Moves to Curb Hard-Liners: Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani Granted Major New Power

Iran Moves to Curb Hard-Liners: "Iran Moves to Curb Hard-Liners
Power Given to Relatively Moderate Body Led by Rafsanjani

By Karl Vick
Washington Post Foreign Service
Saturday, October 8, 2005; Page A13

ISTANBUL, Oct. 7 -- Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the Shiite Muslim cleric who holds ultimate authority in Iran, has altered the country's power structure by granting a relatively moderate panel new authority to supervise an elected government increasingly dominated by religious hard-liners.

Khamenei expanded the authority of the Expediency Council, an appointive body whose longtime chairman, former president Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, is a fixture of Iranian politics and invariably described as wily insider. Rafsanjani lost last June's presidential election, but Khamenei's new decree, made public Oct. 1, gives Rafsanjani at least nominal supervision over the administration put in place by the winner, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.


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The council also was given supervisory authority over the Iranian parliament, despite the squawks of lawmakers who accused the council of a power grab. Previously, the council was only empowered to settle disputes between the parliament and the Guardian Council -- another, more influential appointive body -- and to advise Khamenei.

"The adjudication of the Expediency Council is the final word," council secretary Mohsen Rezai told reporters in Tehran, the capital, this week. "And even if other state sectors do not agree with it, it is the final word and they have to accept it."

The practical effect of the change remains to be seen. The structure of Iran's theocratic government is complex and its operations are opaque.

But analysts found significance in the timing of the change, which had been proposed to Khamenei years earlier. Coming now, the expansion of the Expediency Council's power was widely viewed as, at minimum, a gesture intended to restore some prestige to Rafsanjani. He played a key role in elevating Khamenei to the position of supreme religious leader after the 1989 death of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the leader of the 1979 revolution that installed Iran's religious government.

Others also saw an effort to balance the rise of hard-liners who control Iran's elective branches of government, as well as the judiciary and the Guardian Council. Control of parliament shifted to conservatives last year in an election the Guardian Council closed off to anyone else.

Ahmadinejad took office in August after a more credible victory -- a landslide fueled by a populist economic appeal. But he has had a shaky start. His cabinet selections proved controversial, and his confrontational approach to critics of Iran's nuclear program has been questioned even in Tehran.

"This is more than symbolic. This is the leader saying, 'We're moving too far right,' " said Karim Sadjadpour, who follows Iran for the International Crisis Group, a research group based in Brussels. "I'm loath to call Rafsanjani moderate, but in the current context, he is a voice of moderation."

Iran's government is united in defending its long-secret nuclear program, which it insists is intended only to generate electricity. But foreign diplomats said Iran's cause was hurt by the strident tone of the address that Ahmadinejad, a novice at foreign relations, delivered at the United Nations last month. U.S. diplomats seized on it to successfully lobby the board of the International Atomic Energy Agency to refer Iran to the Security Council.

Rafsanjani, 71, appeared to join in the criticism of Ahmadinejad at Friday prayers a week ago in Tehran.

"You need diplomacy and not slogans," said Rafsanjani, who is both a cleric and a millionaire businessman. "This is the place for wisdom, the place for seeking windows that will take you to the objective."

Ahmadinejad's cabinet nominations also drew criticism, and some ridicule. Parliament rejected four of his choices, including the nominee for Iran's vital oil ministry. The candidate had claimed to have a doctorate from an American college that turned out to be an on-line degree.

"Ahmadinejad has already shown that he needs a lot of supervision," said a professional political analyst in Tehran, who asked not to be named because his employer had not authorized his remarks. "Just last week his government sent two 'double urgent' bills to the parliament. He gets so excited."

Parliament approved his choice for interior minister, Mustafa Pourmohammadi, only after grilling him on his tenure as a top official in the Intelligence Ministry in the mid-1990s, when its agents were executing government critics in their homes. Two other ministries are headed by veterans of Iran's security services, and five more by veterans of the Revolutionary Guards, whose influence in government has steadily grown in recent years.

"The new guys are from a relatively dark place in the Islamic republic," said Ray Takeyh, an analyst for the Council on Foreign Relations based in Washington.

Sadjadpour said generational politics appeared to play a role in expanding the powers of Rafsanjani's council. Along with Khamenei, 66, Rafsanjani lived through the trauma of the Islamic revolution's early years, when the broad-based uprising against the U.S.-backed monarch, Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, soon splintered into bloody factional fighting. That was followed by a bloody eight-year war with Iraq.

"They go back three or four decades, and they've been through a lot together," Sadjadpour said. "I think Khamenei is tending domestically to his power base, and he does want to avert an international crisis.""

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

IRAN: WOMEN'S SPORTS CHIEF SPEAKS OUT AGAINST GOVERNMENT

"IRAN: WOMEN'S SPORTS CHIEF SPEAKS OUT AGAINST GOVERNMENT

Rome, 21 Sept. (AKI) - Ahead of the Islamic Women's Games tournament scheduled to kick off in Tehran on Thursday, the president of the Iranian women's sports federation, Faezeh Hashemi, has launched a scathing attack against the country's new president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who triumphed over her father Hashemi Rafsanjani in elections in June.

"The games will take place despite radical political change in the country" said Hashemi, warning that "some forces currently in power would like women to abandon sports" - a clear reference to Ahmadinejad and his radical Islamist supporters.

Her remarks come amid a decision by the Iranian volleyball federation to withdraw its women's team from the competition and accusations by many Iranian sports offcials that Hashemi's Muslim Women's Sport Foundation (MWSF) is squandering government funds.

Some 254 teams from 48 countries are expected to participate in the Islamic Women's Games which will feature 18 sports disciplines from football and basketball to golf and athletics. To date 2,000 athletes have arrived in Tehran, including a team from Britain and an American athlete.

Competition will take place under strict dress codes with athletes obliged to wear headscarfs or the hijab in all the events except for the swimming races from which male spectators will be banned.

With photojournalists only allowed to cover the golf, clay pigeon shooting and archery competions most of the media attention will focus on the opening ceremony and the prize-giving ceremonies. Mobile telephones equipped with photo cameras will be banned.

The absence of media coverage has made it difficult for the tournament to attract sponsors througout its 12-year history. The Islamic Women's Games were launched in 1993 to give female athletes from Muslim countries an opportunity to play sport at an international level, while not violating Sharia law by competing in front of men in inappropriate attire.

Ever since its creation the games have been held in Tehran. Other Muslim countries have asked to host them but "only Saudi Arabia could qualify," specified Hashemi, since it is the only other Muslim country which strictly applies the customs such as the wearing of the hijab."

IRAN: WOMEN'S SPORTS CHIEF SPEAKS OUT AGAINST GOVERNMENT

"IRAN: WOMEN'S SPORTS CHIEF SPEAKS OUT AGAINST GOVERNMENT

Rome, 21 Sept. (AKI) - Ahead of the Islamic Women's Games tournament scheduled to kick off in Tehran on Thursday, the president of the Iranian women's sports federation, Faezeh Hashemi, has launched a scathing attack against the country's new president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who triumphed over her father Hashemi Rafsanjani in elections in June.

"The games will take place despite radical political change in the country" said Hashemi, warning that "some forces currently in power would like women to abandon sports" - a clear reference to Ahmadinejad and his radical Islamist supporters.

Her remarks come amid a decision by the Iranian volleyball federation to withdraw its women's team from the competition and accusations by many Iranian sports offcials that Hashemi's Muslim Women's Sport Foundation (MWSF) is squandering government funds.

Some 254 teams from 48 countries are expected to participate in the Islamic Women's Games which will feature 18 sports disciplines from football and basketball to golf and athletics. To date 2,000 athletes have arrived in Tehran, including a team from Britain and an American athlete.

Competition will take place under strict dress codes with athletes obliged to wear headscarfs or the hijab in all the events except for the swimming races from which male spectators will be banned.

With photojournalists only allowed to cover the golf, clay pigeon shooting and archery competions most of the media attention will focus on the opening ceremony and the prize-giving ceremonies. Mobile telephones equipped with photo cameras will be banned.

The absence of media coverage has made it difficult for the tournament to attract sponsors througout its 12-year history. The Islamic Women's Games were launched in 1993 to give female athletes from Muslim countries an opportunity to play sport at an international level, while not violating Sharia law by competing in front of men in inappropriate attire.

Ever since its creation the games have been held in Tehran. Other Muslim countries have asked to host them but "only Saudi Arabia could qualify," specified Hashemi, since it is the only other Muslim country which strictly applies the customs such as the wearing of the hijab."

Monday, September 19, 2005

Ayatollah Sistani's envoy confers with Rafsanjani in Mecca - Irna

Ayatollah Sistani's envoy confers with Rafsanjani in Mecca - Irna: "Ayatollah Sistani's envoy confers with Rafsanjani in Mecca Mecca, Sept 20, IRNA
Rafsanjani-Sistani-Envoy
Ayatollah Sistani's Envoy Hojatoleslam Shahrestani conferred here Monday with Ayatollah Hashemi Rafsanjani.

Chairman of Iran's influential Expediency Council Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani referring to Iraq's crisis said, "Current problems in Iraq have caused concern in the Islamic world and world Muslims should try to establish stability and security there.

He described the fundamentals of Iraqi constitution as "good" and said, the Iraqis' enemies are using intimidation, dispersion and dispute methods against that dictatorship and war-stricken nation.

Rafsanjani said, Iraqi people's obligation to Islamic principles and their adherence to imitating their sources of jurisprudence would guarantee that country's independence and territorial integrity.

He also expressed hope that the occupation period of Iraq would end soon.

Shahrestani, too, presented an analysis of the current political, and social situation, adding, " Now, the internal conditions in Iraq have direct effects on general status of the Islamic world".

Concerning the western countries trouble making for Iran in its peaceful nuclear energy program, Ayatollah Sistani's envoy said, " the arrogant powers do not want a powerful and free Iran to emerge as a pattern for the whole Islamic world."

Saturday, July 30, 2005

EC Chairman Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani praises efforts of Khatami administration

Description of Selected News: "EC praises efforts of Khatami administration


TEHRAN (MNA) -- Members of the Expediency Council (EC) expressed their appreciation for the efforts of outgoing President Mohammad Khatami during their weekly session on Saturday.

At the meeting, EC Chairman Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani lauded the measures taken by Khatami for political, economic, and social development and for the expansion of international ties.

Rafsanjani presented a rare copy of the Holy Quran to Khatami during the session, which was also attended by the heads of the executive, legislative, and judicial branches of government.

For his part, Khatami praised Rafsanjani and thanked the EC for its close cooperation with the government over the past eight years.

Khatami called Rafsanjani a great asset of the Islamic Revolution whose advice is always required by the ruling system.

The president also said that Rafsanjani is an experienced personality whose advice is always effective, particularly in times of crisis.

"His views helped settle problems in all situations, and he was generous enough to share his expertise with me. The Expediency Council plays a crucial role in resolving difficulties and discrepancies. Given its high status, the council does not allow the administrators of the community to face deadlocks," Khatami added.

He praised Rafsanjani’s leadership during the post-war years, when the national economy had suffered great losses, and said that, owing to his efforts, the cornerstones of national development and reconstruction were laid down.

"The reconstruction plans and the government’s efforts for economic reform minimized Iran's reliance upon foreigners, so that today we are in a position to attract foreign expertise, technology, and investment.

"Iran's current self-reliance has been gained under the light of the efforts made during Rafsanjani's presidential terms," he added.

Khatami noted that Iran is now able to formulate a national 20-Year Outlook Plan (2005-2025) with high objectives.

Saying that Iran is about to make a major economic leap, he noted that if the current trend continues, the goals set by the 20-Year Outlook Plan will be attained.

The president also said that he owes the positive achievements of his government to the sincere efforts of his colleagues and the members of his cabinet.

"I believe that without Rafsanjani, the government would have faced more problems. The Expediency Council provided excellent support for the establishment of understanding and congeniality as well as in helping solve social problems," he observed."

Friday, July 29, 2005

Rafsanjani calls for Ganji's release

Description of Selected News: "Rafsanjani calls for Ganji's release

Tehran Times Political Desk
TEHRAN – Expediency Council Chairman Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani on Thursday called for the release of jailed journalist Akbar Ganji.

"I regret what is happening. This question can be resolved," Rafsanjani told reporters on the sidelines of a meeting on the First National Assembly of the Youth.

"I have spoken with Ayatollah Mahmud Hashemi Shahrudi (Judiciary chief) and made some proposals for rectifying the problem and I hope it will come to be," Rafsanjani said.

Addressing the First National Assembly on the Youth, Rafsanjani also said that the young people should move in line with national and reformist values.

He called on the assembly to find a journal that would raise people’s knowledge by publishing transparent and accurate information.

The EC chairman also proposed that the assembly appoint advisors in governmental centers around the country.

Rafsanjani said that he would certainly assist president-elect Mahmud Ahmadinejad in his new post.

“Everyone with any post has to help the president,” he noted.

Rafsanjani called the 20-Year Outlook Plan, a plan for the youth, adding it should be enhanced and implemented by the country’s young people.

“In fact, the spirit of the 20-Year Outlook Plan is for the youth to get involved in various decision-makings,” he observed."

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Pro MKO Iran Focus-News - Tries to Draw Rafsanjani into firestorm over alleged election fraud

Iran Focus-News - Special Wire - Iran�s Rafsanjani renews firestorm over election fraud: "Iran’s Rafsanjani renews firestorm over election fraud Tue. 19 Jul 2005



Iran Focus

Tehran, Iran, Jul. 19 – The losing candidate in Iran’s recent presidential elections, Ayatollah Ali-Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, strongly condemned “the way ballots were swapped” and “the gross irregularities in the recent elections” in this week’s meeting of a top arbitration body that he heads, according to Iranian officials.

Rafsanjani’s comments first surfaced in an article by Mohammad-Ali Abtahi, a cleric who was outgoing President Mohammad Khatami’s deputy for legislative affairs before he resigned in October. Another Iranian official, who was active in Rafsanjani’s campaign, provided more information on the meeting to Iran Focus. Abtahi’s article was posted on his weblog on Monday.

Rafsanjani’s remarks came in reaction to comments made by Ayatollah Mohammad-Reza Tavassoli, a former chief of staff of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, in this week’s session of the State Expediency Council.

Before the council began its formal deliberations on Saturday, the elderly Ayatollah Tavassoli delivered a blistering speech against the ultra-conservative faction. He attacked the “fraudulent and despicable” way the faction’s leaders, who include Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, had crowned their own man as Iran’s new president.

Rafsanjani did not interrupt Tavassoli’s seemingly impromptu assault on the ultra-conservative faction, despite objections from several leading allies of the Supreme Leader who sit on the council, including Guardian Council Chairman Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati.

The former president said he agreed with much of Tavassoli’s remarks.

“I have a lot to say about the way this election was conducted and ballots were swapped”, Rafsanjani was reported to have said without further elaboration. “But if I speak out about these issues, some people will make reverse propaganda and things will get worse”.

Much of Tavassoli’s attack was focused on Ayatollah Mesbah Yazdi, a chief ideologue of the ultra-conservative camp and the mentor of President-elect Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

“Ayatollah Tavassoli was incensed at the statement by Mr. Mesbah, who said that Iran has not had a truly Islamic government since the 1979 Islamic Revolution”, Abtahi wrote.

“Mr. Tavassoli voiced alarm that the leaders of Hojjatieh group were now practically in control of the executive branch and the Revolutionary Guards, and that the new President-elect was under their domination”, the pro-Rafsanjani official, who requested anonymity for fear of retribution, said.

Hojjatieh was a semi-clandestine religious and political group that was set up in the early 1950s in Iran by Sheikh Mahmoud Tavallai, popularly known as Sheikh Halabi, an extremist Shiite cleric who founded the group to eradicate members of the Baha’i faith.

The group became prominent after the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran, as many of its members rose to influential positions. Halabi nominally dissolved the group in 1983 to conform with Ayatollah Khomeini’s decree against “partisan politics” in the Islamic Republic, but Hojjatieh members retained their network and the group remained a player within the theocratic regime.

The official told Iran Focus that Rafsanjani and his allies were worried by the strong influence that extremist clerics such as Mesbah Yazdi and Rasti Kashani exert on Abadgaran and Issargaran, two ultra-conservative groupings whose members are expected to make up the bulk of the new cabinet. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is a leading figure in Abadgaran and a member of the six-man central council of Issargaran.

Some analysts see the speech by Tavassoli and the subsequent remarks by Rafsanjani as a counter-attack on the Supreme Leader, engineered by the former president. In recent days, allies of Ayatollah Khamenei in the Majlis and among senior clerics have been pressing the authorities to investigate corruption charges against Rafsanjani’s sons in a bid to further weaken the man once widely expected to regain the presidency.

“Khamenei has badly wounded Rafsanjani, but this will not end here”, said Ahmad Gorbani, a Dubai-based financial analyst, in a telephone interview. “As we say in Persian, a wounded enemy is a far more dangerous foe. You will see that the power struggle in Tehran will get much more nasty”.

Despite the growing acrimony within Iran’s clerical leadership, Gorbani, like most other observers, believes that Khamenei’s rivals stand little chance of mounting a serious challenge to his authority in the present circumstances.

“As long as Khamenei can count on the Revolutionary Guards’ loyalty and the huge oil revenues, he will be able to deal with dissent within the theocracy”, Gorbani said."

Sunday, July 10, 2005

Iran Focus-News/MeK Makes Attack on Rafsanjani

Iran Focus-News - Special Wire - Attack on Rafsanjani signals rising strife in Iran theocracy: "Attack on Rafsanjani signals rising strife in Iran theocracy Sun. 10 Jul 2005



Iran Focus

Tehran, Iran, Jul. 10 – The son of Ayatollah Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani was heard as saying back in April that “we are going to be using the funds of Fuel Efficiency Organization and money obtained by the lease of 400 gas stations to finance my father’s election campaign”, a parliamentary deputy closely allied with Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei told the state-run news agency Fars.

The deputy, Elias Naderan, said he had obtained the agreement of the parliament’s leadership committee to have the Minister of Intelligence and Security investigate corruption, bribery and embezzlement by the Rafsanjani family, including accusations that Rafsanjani’s son had accepted bribes from Norway’s state-owned oil company, Statoil.

Naderan had said earlier that Rafsanjani’s campaign had handed out bribes worth five million dollars to most local newspapers for favourable coverage of their candidate, while the money came from state oil funds.

Naderan complained that despite repeated requests, the Minister of Intelligence and Security, Ali Younessi, had refused to show up to answer his questions either in a parliamentary committee or in the full session of the Majlis.

In a separate development, hours after an open letter from Mehdi Karroubi, one of the defeated candidates in the recent presidential elections, complaining of serious vote fraud in favour of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad surfaced in Tehran, a top Majlis deputy lashed out at Karroubi and outgoing President Mohammad Khatami.

“It’ll be very good if Mr. Khatami could respond to Mr. Karroubi’s request and issue a report on how 50,000-toman travellers’ cheques were dished out to buy votes by a certain candidate”, Moussa Ghorbani told the state-run Fars news agency, alluding to Karroubi’s method of getting more votes.

“Mr. Khatami himself said in his statement before the second round of the elections that one of the two candidates was incompetent. This was an affront to the Iranian people and Mr. Khatami must explain whether or not he was himself involved in the defamation campaign against Mr. Ahmadinejad”, Ghorbani said.

Analysts see the rising venom in the tone of attacks in the factional bickering in Iran as a sign of growing internal strife at the top of the Iranian theocracy, as the Supreme Leader and his ultra-conservative allies have effectively shut the other factions out of power."