'Khamenei rid gov't of 'all internal opposition'

Former Iranian politician warns: Iran's supreme leader has consolidated power, effectively sidelining Ahmadinejad.

March 22, 2012 02:22
2 minute read.
Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei

Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei 390 (R). (photo credit: REUTERS/Caren Firouz)


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WASHINGTON – A former Iranian parliamentarian warned Wednesday that his country’s supreme leader was entering talks over Tehran’s nuclear program emboldened by having neutralized all but the most extreme voices in the government.

Seyed Aliakbar Mousavi, who served in parliament from 2000 to 2004, said that Ayatollah Ali Khamenei was opposed to making concessions on the nuclear program in negotiations because he believed international demands on human rights and other issues would only increase if he yielded any ground on the nuclear front and eventually threaten the entire nature of the regime.

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Describing Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as having lost his role in foreign policymaking, and the reform faction as completely eliminated from the government structure, Mousavi told the Middle East Institute that Khamenei would face few checks on his perspective during fresh negotiations.

Iran expert Geneive Abdo, who appeared at MEI alongside Mousavi, agreed that internal opposition to Khamenei from more pragmatic conservatives had been removed.

“The kind of conflict, the kind of give and take that we saw in the last series of nuclear talks is highly unlikely to reoccur in the coming talks,” she said of the Iranian government debate about how best to proceed in dealing with the demands of the international community.

While Mousavi, however, suggested that sanctions and factors could move Khamenei from his opposition to concessions, Abdo contended that it was “wishful thinking” to conclude that sanctions would change the ayatollah’s nuclear calculus.

At the same time, the Europeans were also coming to talks with a chastened attitude, said Abdo, who runs the Iran Program at The Century Foundation.

She said European officials she recently met with complained of Iran’s “buying time” and “stalling tactics” during the last round of negotiations and insisted they wouldn’t allow such behavior this time.

She also reported that they wanted significant results quickly, in part because of their frustrations from the last round of talks.

While Iran halting uranium enrichment is not a precondition to the talks, she said they want to see at least a temporary halt very soon after negotiations start.

Abdo said the message she heard was: “If Iran does not agree to stop enrichment, we will end the diplomatic process.”

Still, Mousavi urged the US and Israel to set aside the talk of an attack on the regime, arguing that it played into the hands of hardliners and was even desired by some in order to reinforce their position.

Instead he urged more support for reformers and for the rights that would help empower them.

He recalled a letter he had signed as a parliamentarian that urged Iran to stop enriching uranium so that trust with the West could be rebuilt, inspectors could understand the full extent of the program and a mutual understanding for proceeding with Iran’s nuclear program could be undertaken.

“We have to approach the West and Western countries to build trust,” Mousavi said, outlining a vision for what could happen under different leadership in Iran.

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