Nuclear issue appears to be creating rift in Iran's senior leadership

Supreme Leader Khamenei said to be going behind Ahmadinejad's back.

September 19, 2007 21:50
4 minute read.
iran ayatollah khameini 298 ap

iran ayatollah khameini . (photo credit: AP)


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As part of Teheran's efforts to forestall new sanctions in the UN Security Council session slated for Friday, former Iranian Supreme National Security Council secretary Hasan Rowhani is planning a trip to meet with European officials, according to Iranian media reports. Rowhani was in charge of Teheran's nuclear dossier during the era of the previous Iranian president, reformist Muhammad Khatami, and was the chief negotiator with the West; currently, he is the representative of Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in the council. Rowhani was to meet with senior German government officials on Wednesday, and to speak to the EU Parliament; he is scheduled to meet on Thursday with EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana. This is not the first time Khamenei has circumvented Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and presented more pragmatic stances in an attempt to resolve crises that have escalated due to Ahmadinejad's extremist policies. During the 2006-7 Lebanese crisis, Khamenei maintained a direct channel of communication with Saudi King Abdullah via Khamenei's confidant, Iranian Supreme National Security Council Secretary Ali Larijani, who was Ahmadinejad's competitor in the 2005 Iranian presidential election. News of Rowhani's trip to Europe as Khamenei's emissary has sparked harsh criticism in circles close to Ahmadinejad, which said that foreign diplomacy paralleling that of the Ahmadinejad government, "and particularly the carrying out of activity that is against regime policy, are like stabbing the officials in charge of this policy in the back." Ahmadinejad recently issued a warning about reformist officials who were formerly connected with Iran's nuclear negotiations with the West conducting talks with elements in the West and giving them confidential information about Iran's nuclear progress - and even called them traitors. During his stint as chief nuclear negotiator, Rowhani instituted a policy that supported talks with the West that would prepare the ground for advances in Iran's nuclear program. As early as December 2006, he criticized the Ahmadinejad administration's nuclear policy. The criticism of foreign diplomacy parallel and subversive to that of Ahmadinejad, which is being leveled by Ahmadinejad's supporters against senior reformist officials, is in effect a challenge to decisions made by Supreme Leader Khamenei and to his policy, which is more pragmatic than that of Ahmadinejad. On Sunday, the Iranian Web site Farda reported that Ahmadinejad had criticized Expediency Council Chairman Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, who is the No. 2 man in the Iranian leadership, as well as Rowhani and former president Khatami. On Monday, the Rajanews Web site, which is affiliated with supporters of Ahmadinejad, published an article titled "Parallel Diplomacy: A Challenge to Official Diplomacy," which read: "...foreign diplomacy parallel [to that of the Ahmadinejad government,] which brings the other side [i.e. the West] to realize that there are internal disagreements within the [Iranian] government, constitutes a stab in the backs of the officials in charge of this policy. In his most recent speech, Ahmadinejad [already] pointed at some suspicious connections of certain internal elements [i.e. reformist officials] with Western figures who are opposed to Iran..." Another item posted that day by Rajanews, titled "A High-Ranking Official Advises Rowhani Not to Go to Europe," read: "A high-level official in the [Iranian] regime responded to Rowhani's request for his opinion on the matter of his trip to Germany, and his talks with some senior European officials, and recommended that Rowhani refrain from taking this trip... He stressed, 'Since there is no special need for this trip, it should be avoided... In the event that the trip is made [anyway,] you must be sure that they will by no means hear two voices from Iran, and that the position of Iran is the path chosen by the government.'" According to the source, "An associate of Rowhani reported on the possibility that the trip to Europe would be canceled following the recommendation of the high-ranking official." In response, MP and rapporteur for Iran's National Security and Foreign Policy Committee Kazem Jalali denied that there had been any objections to Rowhani's trip, saying it had been planned at the invitation of the Körber Foundation in Germany, and that Rowhani was not bearing any message from Iran. Jalali also denied the item on the Rajanews site that stated that senior regime officials were against Rowhani's trip, adding that "Rowhani is Khamenei's representative in the Supreme National Security Council, and thus any trip he makes is approved by Khamenei." In another article, the Rajanews Web site challenged Khamenei's decision to send Rowhani to talk with senior European officials, saying that even the recent arrest on treason charges of Hossein Mosavyan, who had led the negotiations with the EU-3, has not stopped the circles opposed to Ahmadinejad from acting against Iran's interests: "Rowhani's meeting with Solana is meant to take place at a stage in which Iran has [already] reached an agreement with the IAEA on a framework for resolving the remaining issues; accordingly, Europe's role as a mediator has now been considerably weakened... At this stage, [Rowhani's team] is again trying, with a stupefying move, to revive this failed path [of Iran-Europe negotiations]... "The arrest of Hossein Mosavyan on espionage charges was [caused] by the same parallel and unofficial connections [that he conducted with Western officials]. Thus it seems that the circle to which Mosavyan belongs and which is displeased with Iran's nuclear progress, [remains] unwilling to end its suspicious unofficial diplomacy even after [Mosavyan's] arrest." Y. Mansharof is a Research Fellow at the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI); A. Savyon is director of MEMRI's Iranian Media Project.

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