Uproar in Iran over Rafsanjani’s comment

April 22, 2003


TEHRAN: An interview with a key leader published in a magazine two months ahead of schedule raises new questions about Iranian relations with the US

The divisions within the ruling establishment on relations with the US surfaced after the state-run news agency IRNA wired an excerpt from a 24-page interview with Akbar Rafsanjani, chairman of the influential Expediency Council.

The interview was published in Rahbord, a publication of the Expediency Council. Rafsanjani was interviewed by two former officials of the Expediency Council, Abbas Maleki and Mahmoud Vaezi. Both were reported to be close to Rafsanjani during his two terms as President from 1989 to 1997.

“A referendum can decide whether ties with the US administration should be resumed provided the Islamic Assembly (parliament) approves it, and the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamanei endorses it,” Rafsanjani was quoted as saying.

But Rafsanjani seemed also to contradict himself in the interview. “Only basic issues should be endorsed by the Supreme leader, and resuming ties with the US is not a basic issue,” he was quoted as saying. “The Expediency Council may decide on basic issues, and usually the Supreme leader endorses the decision made by the Council.”

As chairman of the 35-member Expediency Council, Rafsanjani has often had to play troubleshooter between the 12-member Guardian Council and the 275-member parliament dominated by reformists. He is well known for his pragmatism.

Coming from Rafsanjani, the disputed comments about relations with the US, or the “Great Satan” as conservative leaders like to call it, are being taken seriously. He is something of a “king maker” of Iran. Some call him “Akbar Shah” (Akbar the King). His Friday sermons in Tehran are listened to with care, and his memoirs are widely circulated.

Rafsanjani along with Ayatollah Amini from Qom appointed Ayatollah Ali Khamenei the Supreme Leader following the death of Ayatollah Khomeini in 1989. But though influential in both the conservative and the reformist camps, he is considered neither the architect of the Islamic revolution by the conservatives, nor is he popular among the urban middle class.

The temptation to resume ties with the US still hangs over many decision-makers within the ruling establishment.

Conservative newspapers supportive of clergy immediately launched an attack on the IRNA report. “Mr Rafsanjani, who are you to make decisions on Iran-America relations”, the conservative newspaper Dokoheh run by vigilante squads asked on its front page.

But under conservative pressure, the Expediency Council condemned IRNA for quoting from the interview out of context. The interview was held 27 days before IRNA first broadcast its report April 12.

The conservative leaders were particularly incensed by a sentence in the excerpt of the interview put out by IRNA. Rafsanjani was quoted as saying: “Our great leader, Imam Khomeini, founder of the Islamic Republic of Iran, taught us that in the interest of our Islamic Republic, we may even abandon our rituals of daily prayer and fasting in Ramazan.”

Rafsanjani apparently meant that Khomeini had said that even strict Shia requirements can be ignored for a while in the interest of the country, let alone a relatively small matter like relations with the US. But many saw in this the “Satanic pragmatism” of leaders who shake hands with any power as long as it serves their purpose and guarantees survival of the regime.—Dawn/InterPress News Service.