Ahmadinejad & Family Take on 'New' Foreign Policy
02 Sep 2009 10:52
The joke in Iran is that the country has three Foreign Ministers, including Johns Hopkins-educated pediatrician, Ali Akbar Velayati (in gray suit), special adviser on foreign affairs to Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Archive photo. By MUHAMMAD SAHIMI in Los Angeles | 2 Sept 2009
When Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was elected the president in 2005, he promised "a cabinet of 70 million," meaning that his government would include people from all strata of society. In practice, that did not happen.
To the contrary, he appointed his old friends and comrades from his years at the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), colleagues from Iran University of Science and Technology, where he was on the faculty, and those very close to his religious leader, Ayatollah Mohammad Taghi Mesbah Yazdi.
Ahmadinejad has also appointed close relatives to sensitive positions.
His brother, Davood Ahmadinejad, is the head of the Presidential Inspection Organization. Ismail Ahmadi Moghaddam, a brother-in-law, is the chief of police. Masoud Zaribafan, another brother-in-law, was the cabinet secretary. A third brother-in-law, Alireza Ahmadi, was Minister of Education. Ahmadinejad's sister, Parvin, was deputy head of the Center for Women's Affairs. Ahmadinejad also helped her get elected to Tehran's city council in 2006. Parvin's husband, Hossein Shabiri, is the head of Mehr Reza Donation Deposits, a large charity organization.
Zaribafan's brothers-in-law, Alireza and Davood Madadi, hold important positions in the Social Welfare Organization. Two other relatives, Mohammad Nazemi Ardekani and Davood Danesh Jafari, were Ministers of Cooperatives and Economy respectively. Zaribafan's son-in-law, Mohsen Nabavi, is a member of the Board of the Foreign Investment Organization.
Ahmadinejad also brought Hashemi Samareh and his family into government -- they are extremely close to Mesbah Yazdi. Mojtaba Hashemi Samareh (whose maternal uncle, Mohammad Javad Bahonar, is the deputy Speaker of the Majles), was a senior advisor, and for a while supervisor of elections in the interior ministry. In the June election, he was Ahmadinejad's campaign manager. His brother, Mehdi, is general manager of the Ministry of Energy. Another brother, Abdolhamid, was deputy Minister of Industry, and the Minister is Ali Akbar Mehrabian, Ahmadinejad's nephew. Mojtaba Hashemi Samareh's brother-in-law, Ali Kheyrandish, has obtained lucrative contracts from the Ministry of Oil.
The list here is just the tip of the iceberg. Numerous friends were appointed to very sensitive government positions, including Sadegh Mahsouli, the "billionaire minister," who got the Interior Ministry, and Parviz Davoodi, who was appointed as First Vice President (Iran has eight vice presidents). Many of those appointees brought in their own relatives, including their wives, to take up important positions within the government organs that they were heading.
Ahmadinejad also replaced 40 of Iran's ambassadors to foreign countries, including some of the most experienced ones: Mohammad Javad Zarif (Iran's representative to the United Nations), Sadegh Kharrazi (ambassador to France), Shamsoddin Kharghani (ambassador to German), and Mohammad Hossein Adeli (ambassador to Britain).
The last three diplomats had played constructive roles in improving Iran's relations with the European Union during the administration of former president Mohammad Khatami.
Zarif, a moderate conservative, had played an important role in the formation of Afghanistan's national unity government, which emerged after the December 2001 conference in Bonn, Germany, where the future of that country after the overthrow of the Taliban had been discussed. Zarif had daily meetings with James Dobbins, the U.S. envoy, discussing ways in which Iran could help the formation of the Afghan government. When negotiations were on the verge of collapse, due to the intransigence of some of the Afghan groups allied with Iran, it was Zarif who convinced them to join the government. After the formation of the Afghan national unity government, Dobbins, testifying before the U.S. Senate, praised Zarif for the constructive role that he had played.
Ahmadinejad replaced such seasoned diplomats with people who had very little experience in foreign policy. The most important characteristic of the new ambassadors were their loyalty to the hardliners. At that time, the replacements were justified based on the argument that Ahmadinejad wished to pursue a new foreign policy. The new appointees were close in thinking to him, especially with respect to new directions in Iran's foreign policy.
Now that Ahmadinejad has begun a second term after the rigged June "election," the same trends have dominated his new cabinet picks, subject to confirmation by Majles. In addition to many of those listed above, who will be back in the government, Ahmadinejad has continued to appoint people close to him to posts for which they have no expertise or experience.
For example, Sayyed Hamid Behbahani, Ahmadinejad's Ph.D. thesis advisor, is the nominee for the Minister of Road and Transportation. Supporters of Ahmadinejad in the Majles have claimed that Behbahani is "the father of roads in Iran," a most ridiculous claim. Note that Behbahani helped Ahmadinejad receive his Ph.D. degree while he was working full-time as the governor-general of Ardabil province in northwestern Iran.
Alireza Zakani, a hard-line Majles deputy, has harshly criticized Behbahani, claiming that he does not teach his classes in Iran University of Science and Technology (where Ahmadinejad received his doctorate), but flies to the seaport town of Chah Bahar (on the southeastern edge of Iran on the Oman Sea) to teach there, while continuing to draw a salary from the university. He claimed that even the time of the flight from Tehran to Chah Bahar has been moved from 11:00 a.m. to 8:00 a.m. to accommodate Behbahani's schedule.
The word in Tehran is that Iran -- Ahmadinejad rather -- needs new ambassadors, and not just 40 new ones as in 2005, but 80. In other words, not only will the 40 ambassadors who had been appointed in 2005-06 and justified by arguing that Iran's diplomacy needed new blood, have to be replaced, but 40 others still.
Two reliable sources in Iran's foreign ministry have told the author that the ministry is in chaos, with at least two factions vying for influence. One group consists of the traditional conservatives that have been at the Ministry since Ali Akbar Velayati was the Foreign Minister from 1981-1997. The second group consists of those who have been brought by Ahmadinejad into the Ministry, with very little, if any, experience in foreign affairs.
Although Manouchehr Mottaki is officially Iran's Foreign Minister, he is often overruled by the hardliners. The men who have more power than Mottaki are Saeed Jalili, secretary of the Supreme National Security Council and the chief nuclear negotiator, and Velayati who is the Supreme Leader's advisor on foreign affairs. Ahmadinejad tried to appoint Jalili as the new Foreign Minister, but the appointment was blocked by higher authorities (i.e., the Supreme Leader and his inner circle). It was decided that Mottaki will stay on as the Foreign Minister, apparently signaling that hard-line Saeedi will not lead Iran's negotiations with the West. Incidentally, Mottaki has appointed his wife, Tahereh Nazari Mehr, as the head of human rights and women affairs at the foreign ministry.
About a year ago the joke in Tehran was that Iran has three Foreign Ministers (FM): Ahmadinejad's FM Jalili; Mottaki, FM for Ali Larijani, the Speaker of the Majles who was Iran's chief nuclear negotiator from 2005-2007; and Velayati, FM for Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Note that Mottaki was Larijani's campaign manager in his unsuccessful bid for the presidency in 2005. The same characters are still present on the political scene.
Iran's most seasoned diplomats have either been forced into retirement, or have left the foreign ministry. In their place there are and will more people whose only "qualification" is close ties to Ahmadinejad and the hardliners. Fars News Agency, which is controlled by the IRGC, has reported that the new ambassadors will be selected from amongst those "experts who believe in the principles of the Revolution," hard-liners' new code word for those who support their election coup. Sadegh Mahsouli, the former Interior Minister, is rumored to become Iran's representative to the United Nations.
In an apparent gaffe, Fars reported that one reason the ambassadors were being replaced en masse, was that many of them supported the demonstrations against the rigged election. Rooz, the online daily, reported that some of the ambassadors to be axed had refused to video tape the demonstrations that took place by Iranians in the Diaspora in front of their embassies in foreign capitals, in order to identify the leaders of the demonstrations.
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