London-Beirut (Al-Hayat) Ayatollah Ali Khameneh’i, Supreme Leader of the Iranian Revolution, has announced that the commentary on (Ayatollah Ali Akbar Hashemi) Rafsanjani's narrow victory and appointment as head of the Assembly of Experts is "misguided." He also claims it to be exploiting "natural differences" among Iran's leadership.
Two inferences may be made from these statements: Firstly, that Khameneh’i follows (or has others do so for him) the commentary of the foreign press as the sole source of insight into what is happening in his own country, given the approach taken by (President Mahmoud) Ahmadi Nezhad's government towards any form of dissent in Iran.
Khameneh'i warned the press that the Assembly of Experts should not become an arena for internal disputes, given its enormous responsibilities.
Second, that Khamaneh’i does not deny the possibility of differences in opinion, and considers such differences as normal and acceptable.
Neither explanation, however, has dispelled Khameneh’i's anxieties over the victory of his ”opponent”. For he has warned the Iranian press against "antagonistic" explanations of Rafsanjani's win, adding that the Assembly of Experts should not become an arena for internal disputes, given its enormous responsibilities.
Khameneh’i is right to worry, for he can no longer ignore the position Rafsanjani now occupies in the Iranian power structure. He is now head of the Assembly of Experts in addition to being head of the Assembly of Discerning the State’s Interest [is there a formal term for this?] He has also announced his intention to have the Assembly of Experts play a more active role in overseeing state affairs - and his belief that it has the constitutional right to do so. This implies that the policies of Khameneh’i and Ahmadinejad will be subject to the scrutiny of the Assembly, whose main purpose is to oversee the head of state and to decide on his successor.
Thus, the stage is set for a deep internal debate in Iran and a reconsideration of its regional aspirations and true national interest. For Rafsanjani is known for his pragmatism and his willingness to go to great lengths to help his country avoid disaster. He therefore has deep reservations about the path of isolation on which Iran has found itself due to its nuclear and regional adventures.
Rafsanjani will need a foreign policy that supports his pragmatic domestic agenda. To the extent that recent Western hostility to Iran presents an existential threat to the Iranian regime and not merely an effort to resolve the nuclear dispute in a mutually beneficial manner, Iran's policy of aggression may continue. The ethos of the current regime - through which it has also pursued its internal policy of repression - is that any concession to the West - be it over nuclear issues or others - would pose a threat to the Iranian Revolution itself.
This was the rationale behind the vocal announcements of enrichment, at a time when experts - including the IAEA - were attributing it more to domestic political calculations than to nuclear ambitions.
What would harm Rafsanjani is a continuation of America's shortsighted policy towards Iran.
That is not all. For this 'enrichment' was used to block all calls for economic or social reform. This led directly to the recent dire economic situation in Iran and drove officials from the Ministers of Industry and Petroleum to the governor of the central bank to tender their resignations.
It was not too long ago that we witnessed the fate of (former) president Mohamad Khatami at the hands of a shortsighted U.S. policy towards Iran and ignorance in economic policy - the fate on which Ahmadinejad would base his battle against reformers. But Rafsanjani is not Khatami, despite their belonging to the same general camp. His relations with the bazaaris are stronger and his political acumen deeper.
What would harm Rafsanjani is a continuation of America's shortsighted policy towards Iran. This would be Khamaneh’i's only source of comfort and strength in the coming domestic showdown. ENDS KHAMENEH’I WORRIRD 19907
Editor’s note: The above article was posted by the pan Arab newspaper “Al Hayat” on 8 September 2007.
Highlights and some phonetisation indicated in brackets are by IPS