Wednesday, November 02, 2005


Iran: Is Ayatollah Khamenei Having Second Thoughts?

If not a coup, I think there are indicators pointing to a power struggle between Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and the new President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Although Ayatollah Khamenei supported the candidacy of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad it appears the decision to back a little known politician with no foreign policy experience is beginning to trouble the Supreme Leader. The recent increase in unpredictable and unexplainable behavior by President Ahmadinejad may actually be an indication there is a growing power struggle between the President and the Ayatollah. recently published an extraordinary article detailing some of the behind the scenes political maneuvering going on in Iran. It appears Ayatollah Khamenei has taken a series of steps to counter-balance the growing domestic authority of President Ahmadinejad in the conservative circles of the Iranian ruling establishment. According to EurasiaNet, “Ayatollah Khamenei is reportedly worried about the meteoric political rise of clerics and institutions with close ties to Ahmadinejad’s presidency - in particular Ayatollah Mohammad-Taqi Messbah Yazdi”. Apparently Ayatollah Mohammad-Taqi Messbah Yazdi has been making serious attempts to stack the Assembly of Experts with members supporting his hard-line views. The Assembly of Experts is one of several quasi-governmental panels in Iran tasked with overseeing the activities of the country’s secular governing bodies. However, the Assembly of Experts is the only organization with the constitutional authority to replace the Grand Ayatollah. This in conjunction with President Ahmadinejad’s appointment of virtual political novices to key positions within the Iranian government seems to be fueling the Ayatollah’s suspicions that efforts are being made to consolidate power within the new hard-liner leadership hierarchy.

The key counter-balancing initiative the Ayatollah has taken has been the reorganization of the Expediency Council presently led by former President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani. The Expediency Council, which is led by Rafsanjani, has now been given the authority to supervise the work of the three branches of government one of which is headed by President Ahmadinejad. This constitutional maneuver brings us to the present point. After the Ayatollah re-asserted the pragmatic Rafsanjani to political relevance, President Ahmadinejad made his now infamous speech calling for Israel to be wiped off the map. The EurasiaNet article explains, “those comments were designed to accomplish two objectives - to reassert the supremacy of presidential authority and to undermine an attempted rapprochement with the United States that was being guided by Rafsanjani”. One under current to the ongoing situation with Iran’s nuclear program has been the subtle whisperings from US and Iranian officials about the possibility of direct dialogue between the two rivals. The recent statements and appointments made by President Ahmadinejad to co-opt those favoring rapprochement within the Iranian government with new officials more willing to support the less than pragmatic ideologies of Ahmadinejad’s hard-line backers.

This brings us to today’s announcement by the Ahmadinejad Administration about the re-call and re-assignment of several ambassadors to key foreign posts. The senior diplomats to France, the UN, Germany and Great Britain were all instructed to return today. All four of those diplomats were appointed to their posts by the reform minded former President Khatami. All four were major players in the ongoing debate concerning Iran’s nuclear program. In addition to these ambassadors, the BBC reports at least 35 other ambassadors are scheduled for replacement in the very near term. This comes as the President nominated a virtual unknown to the critically important and remarkably prestigious position of oil minister. The President nominated Sadeq Mahsouli, to be the new oil minister but the appointment needs to be approved by Parliament. The President’s first nominee was rejected by the Parliament in August but the rejection didn’t deter the President from nominating someone from his conservative camp.

The removal of some many ambassadors and the continued insistence to appoint strict hard-liners to key government positions indicates the President is not going to sit idly by and let the Ayatollah dictate the terms of his Presidency. I don’t pretend to know all the in’s and out’s of Iranian domestic politics, but this rift within the conservative movement in Iran is likely to have serious ramifications for energy and security issues in the region and around the world.

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