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Ahmadinejad Chairs Cabinet, Declares 'Ready to Die' in Leader's Defense

01 May 2011 23:00Comments

Press Roundup provides a selected summary of news from the Farsi and Arabic press and excerpts where the source is in English. Tehran Bureau has not verified these stories and does not vouch for their accuracy. Please refer to the Media Guide to help put the stories in perspective. You can follow breaking news stories on our Twitter feed.

Iran Daylight Time (IRDT), GMT+4:30

AhmjadCabinetApr.jpgCabinetRoomApr.jpg
President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad at today's cabinet meeting, between First Vice President Mohammad Reza Rahimi and chief of staff Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei. The cabinet chamber.

11 p.m., 11 Ordibehesht/May 1 Our columnist Muhammad Sahimi compiled the following news items and commentary:

The tremendous pressure on Mahmoud Ahmadinejad seems to have finally yielded results. The cabinet met on Sunday in a session chaired by the president. This was the first time that he had taken part in a cabinet meeting since the forced resignation and reinstatement of Intelligence Minister Heydar Moslehi. Morteza Agha-Tehrani, the cabinet's morality instructor, told ISNA, the Iranian Students News Agency, that during the meeting Ahmadinejad emphasized that everyone should obey Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and that "to defend the Supreme Leader, I am ready to die." Fars, the news agency controlled by the intelligence unit of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, also reported that at the end of the cabinet meeting Ahmadinejad declared, "The tenth administration [since the 1979 Revolution] is completely obedient to the Supreme Leader." Nasrin Soltankhah, vice president for science, told ISNA that Moslehi did not attend the cabinet session. It was then reported that Moslehi was in Qom to meet with a group of prominent clerics.

According to Agha-Tehrani, on Saturday evening, ten Majles deputies met with Ahmadinejad and asked him to participate in his cabinet's meetings. The president reportedly told them, "There are some perverted currents in the political system, but the problems will soon be solved. I am the servant of the political system, the Revolution, and the families of the martyrs, and you should know that I will never hurt the system." But, apparently, the problem between him and Khamenei persists. He reportedly told the deputies, "I will solve this problem with one meeting with His Excellency [Khamenei]." Ahmadinejad reportedly denied that he wants to fire Saeed Jalili, secretary-general of the Supreme National Security Council and chief nuclear negotiator, as has been claimed. Apparently, the deputies told him that he might be impeached by the Majles, to which he responded, "Impeachment requires a reason. What have I done?"

After many hardliners called for the Saudi Arabian and Bahraini embassies in Tehran to be closed and diplomatic relations to be cut off, Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi said today that he is opposed to the idea. He said cutting off diplomatic relations will not solve the problems between Iran and the two nations, which should be addressed through diplomatic channels. He also confirmed that Catherine Ashton, vice president of the European Union and its high representative for foreign affairs and security policy, has sent a letter to Tehran. Salehi said the response to the letter has been prepared and will soon be sent to her office.

European socialist and social democratic parties held a conference in Tunisia on Thursday and Friday. It was the first such conference in the region since the revolutions in the Arab states in the Middle East and North Africa began. The conference, titled "Arab Revolutions: Time for Democracy and Progress," was intended to bring together socialist and social democratic representatives from the European Union and progressive representatives from North Africa and the Middle East. Dr. Ardeshir Amir Arjomand, senior adviser to Mir Hossein Mousavi, participated in the conference. In its final declaration, called for the release of the Green Movement leaders who have been under house arrest since the protests of 25 Bhaman/February 14. "We condemn the repression in Iran, welcome the emergence of democracy movements in the country, and call for the liberation of opposition leaders including Mousavi, [Mehdi] Karroubi, and all the political prisoners," the declaration stated.

The health of Ezzatollah Sahabi, leader of the Nationalist-Religious Coalition, has deteriorated again. Reports indicate that after two operations, Sahabi had a stroke and underwent another round of emergency surgery. Sahabi, 80, was the first head of the Organization for Budget and Planning after the Revolution, a member of the Assembly of Constitutional Experts in that drafted the Constitution, and a deputy in the first postrevolutionary Majles, representing the people of Tehran. He has spent 15 years as a political prisoner -- five years in the jails of the Islamic Republic and ten before the Revolution.

Rajab-Ali Mazrooei, spokesman for the diaspora branch of the Organization of the Islamic Revolution Mojahedin -- the leading reformist group, which has been outlawed -- held a press conference. He said that the members of the Coordination Council for the Green Path of Hope, the temporary leadership council while Mousavi and Karroubi are detained, were selected by the two men and they are the only ones who can address the issue of how they selected the council's members. According to Mazrooei, some of them are in Iran and, therefore, their identities cannot be publicized. He also said that the second edited version of the Charter of the Green Movement that was signed by both leaders recognizes the rights of the country's ethnic minorities. If democratic elections are held in Iran, including for local city councils, then most problems regarding the ethnic minorities will be solved, he argued. Mazrooei also said that the Green Movement recognizes that it encompasses a variety of opinions. If there are some who are not satisfied, they can form their own social/political group and separate their activities from the movement. Mazrooei emphasized that due to the severe repression, political activities within Iran are very difficult. Regarding former President Mohammad Khatami's conditions for the Green Movement to participate in the elections for the Ninth Majles, to be held in early March 2012, Mazrooei said that they are a subset of the conditions that Mousavi set forth in his 17th statement on January 2, 2010. Naturally, if those conditions are not met, the Green Movement will not take part in the elections, Mazrooei said.

***

Ahmadinejad's reemergence on Sunday ended ten straight days of absence from his duties as Iran's president, a period during which the hardliners around Khamenei intensified their attacks on both Ahmadinejad and his chief of staff, Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei. Among the most prominent examples, Major General Mohammad Ali Jafari, the Revolutionary Guards' top commander, said, "The perverted team will definitely rise up against the Revolution." The "perverted team" is a phrase recently adopted by Ahmadinejad's critics to refer to Mashaei and his supporters. Jafari added, "They will definitely be defeated, but how this will happen is not clear yet." Khamenei met with military and security officials four times over the past week, which is totally unprecedented and indicative of the depth of the crisis.

Hardline cleric Mojtaba Zolnour, who is deputy to Ali Saeedi, Khamenei's representative to the Guards, said, "Currently, the actual president is Mashaei. Intervention in the affairs of various ministries and the episode with the Ministry of Intelligence are the result of his intervention.... These people [Mashaei and his inner circle] do not believe in clerics and Velaayat-e Faghih [guardianship of the Islamic jurist, as represented by the Supreme Leader]. They want Islam without the clergy. I hope that God will get Mr. President away from him." Zolnour continued, "In Mashaei's thinking, people are divided into three groups. The first consists of those who believe in Velaayat-e Faghih. In the second group are those who voted for Mr. Nategh. Those who mourn Imam Hossein on the Day of Ashura, but have a great time the day after, are in the third group. Mashaei believes that it is the last group that is in the majority. In his view we should not bother them about their satellite dishes, because it is immaterial to him who may be elected." "Mr. Nategh" is former Majles Speaker Ali Akbar Nategh Nouri, who ran against Mohammad Khatami in the presidential election of 1997 and lost in a landslide. He received the votes of traditionalists and conservatives.

In an orchestrated move, all the Friday Prayer Imams emphasized in their sermons that everyone must obey Khamenei. For example, hardline cleric Ahmad Khatami said in his sermon in Tehran, "People will support the officials only if they obey the Supreme Leader. According to our Constitution and our religion, the legitimacy of the entire system is linked with the Supreme Leader. The three branches of the government have legitimacy only if the Leader has approved them. Thus, obeying the Supreme Leader is required, both legally and religiously." Khatami (no relation to the former president) also claimed, "Every success that the nation has had in the fields of new science, technology, nuclear, and space, particularly in the political arena, is due to the Velaayat-e Faghih." In a meeting with a group of Guard officers, Ayatollah Mohammad Taghi Mesbah Yazdi echoed the theme: "Opposing Velaayat-e Faghih is tantamount to opposing the Imams and apostasy."

On Saturday, many Majles deputies demanded to know why Ahmadinejad had been absent from work. While administration representatives were present in the legislature, they had no answers. Hossein Naghavi Hosseini, a deputy from Varamin, called for the Majles hold a meeting behind closed doors to examine what is going on. Shouts of "Death to those who oppose the Velaayat-e Faghih" filled the parliament. Tehran deputy Gholam-Reza Mesbahi Moghaddam declared, "We are ready to die for Velaayat-e Faghih," and also called for a special closed-door session. He said, "We regret the fact that the Constitution is being suspended [by Ahmadinejad] and a fateful order [Moslehi's reinstatement] by the Faghih has been ignored." Majles Speaker Larijani said that the legitimacy of every branch of the political system -- the legislature, the executive branch, and the judiciary -- emanates from the Velaayat-e Faghih, but that some are trying to create the impression that the country is not in a normal state and business is not as usual.

Abbas-Ali Noura, a deputy from Zabol in Sistan and Baluchestan province, said that obeying the Supreme Leader is what the Constitution requires. He claimed that for several hours Saturday morning, the administration tried to get the ministers and provincial governors to sign a letter of support for Ahmadinejad. He then asked rhetorically, "How long should we wait and watch the unwise actions of the perverted group?" Majles Speaker Ali Larijani responded, "The perverted group will never succeed," which provoked shouts of "Ahsant, ahsant" (well said, well said) by the deputies. He also said, "The best way of fighting the perverted group is to consider the annual national budget." Hassan Norouzi, deputy from Robat Karim on the southern edge of Tehran, declared that he had filed a complaint against Mashaei and Hamid Baghaei, another member of Ahmadinejad's inner circle, with the Majles leadership, the parliament's Article 90 Commission, and the judiciary. He did not explain the grounds for the complaint, though Baghaei, who heads the Organization for Cultural Heritage and Tourism, has been accused of violations by other deputies. Conservative legislator and Ahmadinejad critic Ali Motahhari -- a brother-in-law of Larijani's -- said that a letter demanding that Ahmadinejad be summoned to the Majles and questioned has been signed by 60 deputies. He added that they would make a formal request "at the appropriate time."

Ahmadinejad's proposed budget for the current Iranian year then came under attack. According to the budget, the government will save $62 billion by eliminating the subsidies on many basic foodstuffs and commodities. But conservative Majles deputy and Ahmadinejad critic Ahmad Tavakoli said that the elimination of subsidies and consequential price hikes will put severe pressure on both consumers and domestic production. He argued that the predicted savings will be realized only if the price of gasoline, currently about $3 per gallon, is doubled, which will only add to the problems that Iranians are facing. He also said that the Majles Research Center, which he heads, has estimated that the rate of inflation has doubled over the past three months and that the Central Bank has agreed with the estimate. Tavakoli concluded, "Whether or not Ahmadinejad is in his office, he is still responsible for breaking the laws regarding the elimination of the subsidies."

Mohammad Dehghani, deputy from Torghebeh and Chenaran in northeast Iran, went even further and declared that if the savings are to be realized, the price of everything will have to double. Conservative deputy Elyas Naderan, a former Guard commander, also questioned the administration's estimate that the government will save $62 billion. The Majles then ordered the administration not to increase the price of energy (electricity, oil, gas, and gasoline) more than 20 percent.

Majles deputy Parviz Sarvari, a former top commander of the Revolutionary Guards, told Yaa Lasaaraat-e Hossein, the weekly published by the hardline paramilitary group Ansaar-e Hezbollah, "Ahmadinejad's team is opposed to the Velaayat-e Faghih, and before it is too late Ahmadinejad must make his decision regarding the team." He said that the "perverted team" has been campaigning for three years -- first for the 2009 presidential vote and now for next year's Majles elections. Hossein Fadaei, another hardline deputy, said, "The perverted team has resorted to Satan and believes that it does not need the Velaayat-e Faghih, because it receives its orders directly from Imam Mahdi. It does not believe that our era is one of obeying the Velaayat-e Faghih, but that this is the era in which Imam Mahdi will return."

Supporters of Khamenei claimed that during the Kish International Festival of Films, some fundamentalist actors and filmmakers left the auditorium in protest when Mashaei began his speech there. When the deputy minister of culture and Islamic guidance asked them to return, an argument supposedly erupted. The secretary of the festival denied the entire story.

A couple of members of Ahmadinejad's own cabinet made clear their support for Khamenei. Minister of Science, Research, and Technology Kamran Daneshjoo, who oversees the universities, said, "If we wish to continue on the path of progress, we should watch the Supreme Leader's finger to tell us the direction. Whatever we have is from the Velaayat-e Faghih." Seyyed Mohammad Hosseini, minister of culture and Islamic guidance, said that the justification offered by IRNA, Iran's official news agency, for why it did not report on Khamenei's complete speech regarding the Moslehi saga is not acceptable.

Supporters of Ahmadinejad have not been silent, though. A group of them issued a warning to those who attack the president, which was published by Aeen News, a website closely aligned with the administration. Signed by "a group of bloggers and journalists of Fars province," it declares, "We warn you for the last time not to upset Ahmadinejad. Otherwise, we swear to God that in order to defend a government that has dedicated its utmost efforts to the poor and needy and has transformed the forbidden [un-Islamic] food of those who eat them into poison, we will enter the field and resist to the end. Undoubtedly, our resistance will destroy those who are armed to the teeth, those who under the banner of seductive slogans, deceits, and titles are trying to destroy our dear Ahmadinejad." The statement also warns, "This is not a hollow threat." This is apparently a response to Khamenei's speech a few days ago -- to a group likewise from Fars -- in which he asserted, "So long as I am alive, I will not allow any deviations from the path that the nation is on." The reference to those "armed to the teeth" is apparently to the Revolutionary Guards. In response, Mohammad Saleh Meftah, who publishes the hardline website Tribiyoun-e Mostazafin, claimed that no actual blogger or journalist signed the purported statement.

Then, on Saturday morning, Aeen News posted another warning, this time directly to Khamenei's supporters. It declared, "Undoubtedly, in the coming days...the enemy-breaking decisions by the president and the belief of the youth and the nation in the Sword of Mola [Imam Ali], Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, will be even greater. The hypocrites will undoubtedly be recognized and will lose their marjaeiyat [the status of a religious figure who is a source of emulation for the masses] and legitimacy, and will forever be isolated, and the result will be the toppling of the top of the godly positions. The anger of the Hezbollah has piled up and soon, through a miracle-like victory and by revelation of the truth, will target those who have designed this scenario [attacks on Ahmadinejad] through deceit." The reference to the "top of the godly positions" was clearly aimed atKhamenei. Two hours after posting this warning, Aeen News was blocked. Other websites that support Ahmadinejad -- Baraaye Hameh, Dolat-e Yar, Rahva, Bakeri News, and Penhan News -- have been blocked as well.

Mojtaba Navandi, a journalist close to Ahmadinejad, reported that the president told him that he would not back down in the current confrontation. "This is not about Ahmadinejad," the president reportedly said, adding that he would soon begin revealing information to the nation. Navandi said that he did not want to publicize Ahmadinejad's comments, but because the hardliners were falsely claiming that the president opposes Khamenei, he decide to go ahead. According to his report, Ahmadinejad believes that the agents of "the man behind the scene" are trying to divide him and the Supreme Leader. "The man behind the scene" is presumably a reference to Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani. Navandi also said that Ahmadinejad declared that if these people succeed in defeating him, they will go after "His Excellency," Khamenei.

IRNA chief Ali Akbar Javanfekr, an ally of Ahmadinejad and Mashaei's, seemed to respond for them in a post on his blog, in which he quoted Ahmadinejad as saying, "After a life of being a believer in the Velaayat-e Faghih and serving the people, I am accused of being a counterrevolutionary and anti-Supreme Leader. My colleagues are accused of being Freemasons and perverted. Those who should praise [us] are using their tongues to attack us." Mesbah Yazdi recently warned that Freemasons have penetrated the government. For decades, it has been a generally accepted notion in Iran that Freemasons are in fact agents of British intelligence.

Ahmadinejad was supposed to take part in a nationally broadcast television program, but it was cancelled after the president declared that he would appear only if it was a live broadcast. The website Haft-e Sobh, associated with the daily published by associates of Mashaei, reported that the president's opponents set conditions for such a program: He must explicitly declare his position regarding Khamenei and the Moslehi situation, among other issues.

Ahmad Jannati, secretary-general of the Guardian Council, reportedly went to Ahmadinejad's home and asked him to back down, but the president supposedly refused. He reportedly told Jannati, "I was the one who eliminated the reformists. I was the one who delivered Iran's nuclear program. When no one was willing to implement the law for the elimination of the subsidies, I was the one who did it. Why should I back off?"

***

After receiving medical treatment, Fatemeh Karroubi returned to her residence where she has been detained with her husband, Mehdi. since the 25 Bahman/February 14 demonstrations. In a brief conversation with a Saham News reporter, she said that they were treated very roughly for several weeks, but that things have improved somewhat since the new Iranian year began on March 21. She said that the phrase "house arrest" should not be used to describe their situation because they do not even enjoy the rights of ordinary prisoners -- they cannot set foot outside their apartment and have no telephone access.

Veteran journalist Siamak Pourzand, 80, passed away in Tehran. He began his career in 1952 with Bakhtar-e Emrooz, the daily published by Dr. Hossein Fatemi, Mohammad Mosaddegh's foreign minister. After the reformists swept the elections for the Sixth Majles in 2000, Khamenei angrily denounced the reformist press and the hardliners closed 16 newspapers in two days. Mesbah Yazdi, the reactionary cleric, claimed that foreign powers had brought "suitcases containing millions of dollars" into the country to be distributed among reformist journalists. Pourzand was subsequently arrested and tortured. He eventually participated in a television program in which he made accusations against some journalists. After a show trial, he was sentenced to 11 years in jail. When his health deteriorated, he was first transferred to a hospital and then to house arrest. His daughter, Lili Pourzand, said that her father committed suicide. Pourzand was married to attorney and human rights advocate Mehrangiz Kar.

According to Hassan Danaeifar, Iran's ambassador to Iraq, except for about 100 people who have cases before the judiciary, all the members of the Mojahedin-e Khalgh Organization residing in Camp Ashraf have been pardoned and can return to Iran or go wherever they want. He said that most of the people who live in Camp Ashraf are veteran followers of the organization, as it has not been able to recruit any new members for years.

On the occasion of Teachers' Day, a statement was issued by two leading teachers who are serving prison sentences, Abdollah Momeni, spokesman for the Organization of University Graduates, and Mohammad Davari, a senior adviser to Karroubi. The statement, "The Path from the School Jail to Evin Prison," points out that this is the second year in a row that the two are in jail on Teachers' Day. It concludes, "How can we teach bravery to our students when the reward for criticism is imprisonment?... How can we speak of justice when we are victims of injustice? We cannot teach our students that a good citizen is someone who is silent, inactive, a 'yessir' person, timid, and deceitful, because we believe that undemocratic actions are precisely the result of such characteristics. With hope for a green and free Iran."

Bahareh Hedayat and Majid Tavakoli, leading university activists currently in prison, were brought to court. They have been under tremendous pressure to recant the statements that they have issued over the past several months, which they have resisted. Hedayat and Tavakoli have been sentenced to nine and a half and eight years imprisonment, respectively, two of the heaviest sentences imposed on Iranian university activists.

PoliticalPrisonersMay.jpgInmates in Evin Prison's Ward 350, where many political prisoners are held, celebrated the birthdays of three leading university activists, Hassan Asadi Zeidabadi, Milad Asadi, and Ali Malihi. They sang patriotic songs together. Two other imprisoned university activists who have been exiled to jails outside Tehran, Zia Nabadi and Majid Dorri, were also celebrated by the prisoners.

Shiraz Governor Hossein Ghasemi was fired by Ruhollah Ahmadzadeh, governor-general of Fars province. Ghasemi recently revealed information about the illegal takeover of some public lands, and he has criticized the notion of an "Iranian school of thought" that has been advocated by Mashaei.

The development of two new natural gas fields was contracted to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps without any bidding. The two fields, Sefid Baghoon and Halgan, are estimated to contain 355 billion cubic meters of natural gas. The development is supposed to generate 19 million cubic meters of gas/day. The contract is worth $1 billion.

Outspoken imprisoned reformist Mostafa Tajzadeh had recently challenged Hossein Shariatmadari, the managing editor of Kayhan, mouthpiece for a faction of the security forces, to a debate. In the paper's Saturday edition, Shariatmadari, after attacking both Tajzadeh and the Green Movement, accepted the invitation on condition: that the Green Movement's leaders declare that Tajzadeh is their spokesman and that they will accept the result of the debate, whatever it may be.

Twenty-four academics have signed a statement declaring their support for the imprisoned labor leaders Mansour Osanloo, Behnam Ebrahimzadeh, Ebrahim Madadi, and Reza Shahabi. They have criticized the government for imprisoning the workers, expelling them from their jobs, cutting off their wages, and putting pressure on labor activists in violation of international agreements that have been signed by Iran. Naom Chomski, Ervand Abrahamian, Hamid Dabashi, and Aseh Bayat are among those who have signed the statement. The diaspora branch of the Organization of the Islamic Revolution Mojahedin also issued a statement in which it condemned the repression of independent labor unions and demanded that the imprisoned labor leaders be freed immediately.

Majles deputy Younes Mousavi said that the number of imprisoned is so large that many of them must sleep on the stairs. Conditions in general are deteriorating, he said, citing as an another example the fact that one blanket is given to every two prisoners. He asked the Majles to increase the prison system's budget.

The Pakistani newspaper Express Tribune reports that Pakistan has tried to defuse the tension between Iran and Saudi Arabia. Pakistan's Foreign Affairs Minister Hina Rabbani Khar recently visited Saudi Arabia to mediate between the kingdom and Iran. Riyadh has accused Tehran of instigating demonstrations in Bahrain and generally interfering in Arab countries' internal affairs. According to Express Tribune, Prince Saud al-Faisal, Saudi Arabia's foreign minister, expressed support for Pakistan's efforts to promote peace and stability in the region during his talks with Khar. He reportedly asked Pakistan to use its influence over Iran to persuade it to avoid meddling in Arab affairs. During her visit, Khar also had extensive discussions with other Saudi leaders, including National Security Council Secretary-General Prince Bandar bin Sultan and Interior Minister Mohammad bin Naif.

Copyright © 2011 Tehran Bureau

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