Mojtaba Vahedi: Ahmadinejad-Khamenei Rift Widening
by TARA MAHTAFAR in Washington, D.C.
14 Mar 2010 20:11
A senior aide to opposition cleric Mehdi Karroubi said today that Iran's supreme leader has cooled his support for president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
Mojtaba Vahedi, chief of staff to Mehdi Karroubi since 1982, and editor-in-chief of reformist newspaper Aftab Yazd until January 2010 when he resigned to keep the newspaper from being closed down, spoke to journalists at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace on Friday. Later, he met with a smaller group of participants.
Vahedi asked that his comments not be attributed to Karroubi.
"The supreme leader's speeches from June to December of last year strongly endorsed Ahmadinejad. But since Ashura, Ayatollah Khamenei has never once mentioned Ahmadinejad's name in any public address," he said.
He added that Ahmadinejad recently appealed to the supreme leader to pressure Majlis, the Iranian parliament, to push through legislation for targeted subsidies, but was coldly rebuffed.
"Over the past nine months, we've seen Mr. Khamenei go from praise and support to silence to refusal to back the president," said the former Islamic Republic official, who recently moved to Washington.
The withdrawal of the supreme leader's backing of the president is likely to intensify in response to acts of defiance by Ahmadinejad, who considers himself to be the supreme leader's equal -- not his subordinate, Mr. Karroubi's aide explained.
"When Mr. Khamenei demanded the removal of Esfandiar Rahim-Mashaei from the post of first vice president, Ahmadinejad allowed a full week to pass before Mashaei resigned. Ahmadinejad then wrote to the supreme leader and signed off the letter [with the following innuendo]: 'May the days of your preeminence last' [ayaam ezzat mostadam]. This was clearly intended as a taunt and threat," he added.
Asked why he believed the Green Movement leaders Mir Hossein Mousavi and Karroubi had not yet been arrested, Vahedi replied that such a move would serve to empower the president. "Mr. Khamenei knows that the blame for Mousavi and Karroubi's arrests would rest directly with him. The supreme leader does not want to crush the Green movement completely, because the only winner standing will be Ahmadinejad," he opined.
Regarding the allegiances of the powerful Revolutionary Guard (IRGC), Karroubi's aide stressed that the paramilitary organization was not a monolithic entity but was split into various factions. "We should not speak of 'the Guard,' but rather of Guardsmen," he said. "Some are loyal to Khamenei, some to Ahmadinejad, and some to Rezai," he added, referring to former IRGC commander Mohsen Rezaei.
Carnegie's Karim Sadjadpour asked his guest speaker about the goals and future of the opposition Green Movement.
"The end goal is to have transparent, free and fair elections ... once that happens, you can be certain the Iranian people will elect [a president] who will secure peaceful and friendly relations with the world," he said.
On the subject of the potential efficacy of sanctions, Vahedi recommended the use of 'smart sanctions' -- targeted financial sanctions against members of the Revolutionary Guard. "For such sanctions to be truly 'smart,' we need only to look at the multitude of companies set up in Dubai in the past 3-5 years," he said, hinting that much of import traffic to Iran from the UAE happened under the auspices of the Guards.
He went on to say that those in the United States opposed to a gasoline embargo worry that tougher sanctions will hurt ordinary Iranians or provide Iran's government with an excuse to shift the blame for the country's deep economic recession from their own mismanagement to West-imposed sanctions.
But the Iranian government is "already using this pretext," he said. "As an Iranian, I'd hate to see our citizens suffer. But even if they are hurt in the short term, whatever shortens the life of this government is in the interests of the [Iranian] people."
Regarding U.S. policy on Iran, Vahedi said that the Obama administration's focus on the nuclear issue, at the expense of ignoring Iran's human rights violations, is "exactly what Ahmadinejad wants."
"If the U.S. reverses this approach and focuses on pressuring Iran for its human rights abuses ... this is what the Iranian government fears most," he said.
Iran's hardline rulers will not back down from the nuclear confrontation with the West, he added. "The nuclear issue will be resolved when Iranian people hold free and fair elections," he said.
The long-time Karroubi aide stressed that U.S. support would not taint the opposition because Iranian state media levels charges of foreign-backed plots for regime change "regardless of whether the U.S. actually does or does not voice support for the Green Movement."
"Ahmadinejad wants to project [the impression] that he enjoys international support, and the silence of world powers [on human rights issues] bolsters this image of support," he said. "It will have an important psychological impact for the Iranian people to know that the U.S. and the international community do not condone the Iranian regime's human rights violations."
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