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Guardian Council to Ahmadinejad: Hands off Oil; Regime Brawl's Latest Hits

20 May 2011 23:30Comments

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

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President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. A rainy day in Iran.

11:30 p.m., 30 Ordibehesht/May 20 According to a press release just issued by the National Iranian American Council, "As a result of our longstanding efforts, the State Department called to inform us that they will now issue multiple-entry visas for Iranian students." As reported by Tehran Bureau, NIAC, along with Iranian student groups around the country, has been campaigning to lift the restrictive visa requirements that have been imposed on Iranians pursuing their studies in the United States.

"We want more dialogue and more exchange with those of you who are shaping Iran's future. We want to be able to share what we think is great about America," said Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in announcing the measure. "Because as long as the Iranian government continues to stifle your potential, we will stand with you. We will support your aspirations, and your rights." Click here for Clinton's announcement via YouTube (Farsi subtitles).

***

American officials and members of the Western intelligence community have long debated the question of whether the Islamic Republic of Iran had any involvement in or advance information about the attacks of September 11, 2001, that killed thousands in New York City, Washington, D.C., and rural Pennsylvania. Now, according to a report in the New York Times:

Two defectors from Iran's intelligence service have testified that Iranian officials had "foreknowledge of the 9/11 attacks," according to a court filing Thursday in a federal lawsuit in Manhattan that seeks damages for Iran's "direct support for, and sponsorship of, the most deadly act of terrorism in American history."

One of the defectors also claimed that Iran was involved in planning the attacks, the filing said. The defectors' identities and testimony were not revealed in the filing but were being submitted to a judge under seal, said lawyers who brought the original suit against Iran on behalf of families of dozens of 9/11 victims.

The suit's allegation that Iran had foreknowledge of the attacks is hard to assess fully, given that the defectors' testimony is being filed under seal.

The suit contends that Iran and Hezbollah, the Lebanese militant organization with close ties to Tehran, helped Al Qaeda in planning the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, and in facilitating the hijackers' training and travel. After the attacks, the suit contends, Iran and Hezbollah helped Qaeda operatives escape, providing some with a safe haven in Iran.

In 2004, the 9/11 Commission concluded that it had "found no evidence that Iran or Hezbollah was aware of the planning for what later became the 9/11 attack." While the commission's report asserted that there was "strong evidence that Iran facilitated the transit of al Qaeda members into and out of Afghanistan before 9/11, and that some of these were future 9/11 hijackers," it added that "[a]t the time of their travel through Iran, the al Qaeda operatives themselves were probably not aware of the specific details of their future operation."

***

Our columnist Muhammad Sahimi compiled the following news items and commentary:

Fars, the news agency controlled by the intelligence unit of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, reports that the Guardian Council has taken the position that it is illegal for Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to appoint himself interim oil minister. According to Fars, the council has yet to publicize its position that the president's move to take direct control of the Oil Ministry is a violation of Article 135 of the Constitution. Emruz News, website of the reformist Organization of Islamic Revolution Mojahedin, has a similar report.

In a long interview with Fars, conservative Majles deputy Ahmad Tavakoli strongly criticized the president. According to Tavakoli, although in his recent nationally broadcast television interview Ahmadinejad seemed to be following the spirit and letter of the laws, he is still trying to do what he previously decided regarding the merger of eight ministries into four. Tavakoli asserted that in the recent meeting between Ahmadinejad, Majles Speaker Ali Larijani, and Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the Supreme Leader told the president that he must follow the Guardian Council's position, which accords with that of the Majles -- he must first introduce legislation that describes the tasks of the new ministries. After it is approved by the Majles, he should then propose nominees to head the new ministries so that votes of confidence may be taken.

Tavakoli also revealed an important piece of information regarding the conservatives' thinking about the 2009 presidential election. He said that he had told people, "[Mir Hossein] Mousavi has a social base that, even if he does not want it, can be mobilized against the Leader, whereas Ahmadinejad does not have any social base that, even if he wanted it, could be mobilized against the Leader." That is why Tavakoli says he voted for Ahmadinejad, even though he was opposed to him.

After former President Mohammad Khatami said in a recent speech that the Iranian people should forgive what has been done to them, and the Leader should also forgive the people if they did anything wrong, hardline websites attacked him. Jahan News, the website published by former Revolutionary Guard commander and current Majles deputy Alireza Zakani, said that only the people should be forgiven, because nothing was done to them that requires forgiveness on their part. Raja News, published by former Ahmadinejad supporter Fatemeh Rajabi, said that Khatami is trying to get back into power and make people forget his own role in the "sedition" -- the Green Movement -- of two years ago. Conservative journalist Abbas Salimi Namin recently said that Rajabi played an important role in giving Ahmadinejad the illusion that he is the savior of the Islamic Revolution. After Ahmadinejad was elected in 2005, Rajabi published a book in which he called the President "the miracle of the third millennium."

Javan, the mouthpiece of the Revolutionary Guards, claimed that Abbas Ghaffari -- a close friend of Ahmadinejad's chief of staff, Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei, who has been arrested and accused of practicing exorcism and associating with djinns -- has raped 360 girls and had affairs with married women. Regardless of whether such accusations are true, the goal is to hurt Mashaei and, hence, Ahmadinejad. In another attack on the president, Hassan Abbasi, a leading hardline political strategist, said that Ahmadinejad's team is "the speck of all the principlist specks" and that "the principlists hate him deeply." His speech can be heard here.

In his sermon during Qom's Friday Prayers, Ayatollah Seyyed Mohammad Saeedi warned the "perverted team" -- the hardliners' new epithet for Mashaei and his circle -- saying, "Stop your conspiracy, otherwise the people will burn you in their fire of anger, as they did to [Abolhassan] Bani Sadr [the Islamic Republic's first president, who was impeached in June 1981], the hypocrites [the Mojahedin-e Khalgh Organization], and the leaders of the sedition [Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi]. They are trying to present the supporters of Velaayat-e Faghih as being against the people, but they should know that the people of Iran have had many successes over the past 30 years by supporting the Velaayat-e Faghih" -- the doctrine of guardianship of the Islamic jurist, by which Khamenei rules as Supreme Leader.

Yaa Lasaaraat-e Hossein, the mouthpiece of Ansaar-e Hezbollah, the ultrareactionary vigilante group, demanded the arrest of Mashaei. It quoted hardline clerics, such as Mohammad Taghi Mesbah Yazdi and his disciple Ghasem Ravanbakhsh, and opined that Mashaei is in cahoots with the Freemasons. It also said that when Mashaei talks about Imam Mahdi's management of the country, he implies that there is no need for Velaayat-e Faghih; he must, therefore, be arrested and put on trial.

Several Majles deputies expressed concerns that the government will interfere in the elections for the Ninth Majles, to be held next March 2. Jafar Ghaderi, deputy from Shiraz, said that the provincial governor of Fars is trying to put up candidates that support him (and hence Ahmadinejad). He also said that every interview that the governor grants "smells like and has the color of an election campaign." Another deputy, Seyyed Fazel Mousavi from Khoda Bandeh in Khuzestan province, said that there is a particular group that is extensively lobbying and trying to use government resources to win several seats in the next parliament. "The governor has officially ordered his people not to work with any group for the next Majles that opposes the government," he said. But Nayyereh Akhavan, deputy from Isfahan, said that the new election law that requires every candidate to have at least a master's degree has disappointed the supporters of the "perverted group."

Reformist Majles deputy Mostafa Kavakebian from Semnan said in parliament, "What has happened to the country that, after implementing so many plans, such as targeted subsidies and the distribution of 'justice shares,' the state of justice and fairness in this country is so bad? Kavakebian was referring to what Khamenei said on Tuesday: that the state of justice and fairness in the country is "absolutely unsatisfactory."

Seyyed Mohammad Gharavi, member of the high council of clerics in Qom, declared that many senior clerics are critical of the government, including those who once supported and voted for Ahmadinejad. He claimed, "Many Marjas [grand ayatollahs] are not willing to meet with the president, even when important intermediaries asked them to." According to Gharavi, "they keep saying no" to such requests because "they have made suggestions to the government that were not acted upon."

According to the hardline website Asr-e Iran, the next project of the government is the downfall of Tehran Mayor Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf, who ran unsuccessfully against Ahmadinejad in the 2005 presidential campaign and is strongly rumored to be planning another bid in 2013. Jafar Mohammadi wrote in Asr-e Iran, "The next problem that we will confront is lack of payment of the subsidies for the Tehran subway. In that case the price for subway tickets will go up significantly. According to the law, the government must provide one third of the ticket price as a subsidy. So long as Mehdi Hashemi, Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani's son, was the head of the subway system, the government refused to pay the subsidy, because it did not want him to look good. This year and next we will have the elections for the Majles and presidency, and if Ghalibaf becomes more popular, many will be hurt! The government will neither pay for the extension of the subway system, nor provide the subsidy."

Tehran Prosecutor Abbas Jafari Dolatabadi confirmed that Parivash Satvati, widow of Dr. Hossein Fatemi, foreign minister in the government of Mohammad Mosaddegh, has been arrested. Ahmadinejad, in an attempt to appeal to Iranians' nationalism, honored Satvati last year. Dolatabadi also said that Faezeh Hashemi, Rafsanjani's daughter, has been summoned by the judiciary to explain the recent interview in which she said that the country is run by thugs, and that the case of Saeed Mortazavi, the notorious former Tehran prosecutor who is centrally implicated in the crimes that occurred in the Kahrizak detention center in the aftermath of the 2009 election, is still open and under investigation.

Reactionary cleric Mohammad Taghi Mesbah Yazdi, who used to be Ahmadinejad's spiritual mentor, asserted that the "perverted team" aims to take over the presidency in 2013. "The goal is to create this impression [among the people] that whatever has been done over the past six years is due to this perverted person, and that he is the greatest strategist in the world and, therefore, he must be the next president," said Mesbah Yazdi, who has recently been highly critical of Ahmadinejad.

Ali Akbar Javanfekr, head of IRNA, Iran's official news agency, has filed a lawsuit against Hossein Shariatmadari, hardline managing editor of Kayhan, the mouthpiece of a faction of the security and intelligence forces. In response, Shariatmadari said that he will reveal a lot of information about the identity of the "perverted group" and those who are linked to it. Javanfekr is a close ally of Ahmadinejad and Mashaei's.

***

Ahmadinejad claimed that the West plans to create drought in Iran. As evidence, he mentioned an article by a Western politician who discussed areas around the world that will have drought problems over the next 30 years, including Iran. The president also claimed that European countries use a special technique to prevent rain clouds from moving toward Iran.

In an interview a few days ago with the website Ayandeh News, Rafsanjani talked about the 1980s and, in particular, the sacking of Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri from the post of deputy to Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. Rafsanjani said that Montazeri was emotional and would judge reports about what was going on too quickly and publicize them, which was often not in the country's best interests. In a letter to Rafsanjani, Ahmad Montazeri, the ayatollah's son, responded. Referring to his father, he said, "He felt responsible toward the people. Regarding the execution and the conditions of the prisons, the reports that he was receiving were documented. In addition, he had the reports of his own representatives that had visited the prisons. Is it right to call his trust in the documented reports 'judging too quickly'?"

Mehdi Karroubi's son, Dr. Mohammad Taghi Karroubi, warned the government that it is responsible for any and all consequences of his parents' house arrest. The younger Karroubi observed that house arrest has a long history in Iran, from that of Seyyed Hassan Modarres, a progressive clerical opponent of Reza Shah Pahlavi who was murdered on the monarch's orders, to Mosaddegh and Montazeri. Regarding his parents, he asked, "What was their offense, so that they can make preparations to defend themselves? Which court has tried their case and has convicted them and ordered the denial of their basic rights?"

Five hundred human rights and women rights activists issued a statement protesting the inhumane conditions in Gharchak Prison, near Tehran. The statement follows a public letter describing the horrendous state of affairs there that was written by a group of female political prisoners who were transferred to Gharchak. The activists demand that the government close down all prisons in which the standard criteria for humane conditions are not satisfied, improve the others, separate prisoners based on the offenses that they have committed or, as in the case of political prisoners, of which they have been accused, and take into consideration female prisoners' special needs.

Tehran Prosecutor Dolatabadi has threatened to arrest Fatemeh Alvandi, the mother of Mehdi Mahmoudian, the imprisoned reformist journalist whose letter to Khamenei written in September 2010 was recently publicized. As reported by Tehran Bureau, Mahmoudian described the routine rapes, the sex trade, and the many other crimes that are going on in three prisons in and around Tehran. He is currently on hunger strike, and his mother had written a letter of protest to the judiciary. Alvandi has also given interviews to websites that support the Green Movement in which she has bitterly complained about not being allowed to see her son.

Israeli daily Yediot Aharonot reported yesterday that then Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered the sabotage of Iran's nuclear program in 2006. The report was based on WikiLeaks documents that purportedly detail talks between Gideon Frank, the head of Israel's Atomic Energy Commission, and then U.S. Ambassador to Israel Richard Jones. In the February 2006 meeting, Frank supposedly told Jones "at length about the results of his secret meetings with top figures in the Russian security establishment and intelligence community," including then Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, and Russian Atomic Energy Commission Chairman Sergei Kiriyenko. According to the report, Frank said that Putin had personally ordered measures to delay progress at Iran's Bushehr nuclear plant: "Frank said that Kiriyenko had told him that he intended to delay the process of sending the nuclear rods to the reactor in Bushehr for an extended period of time and that he had no intention of supplying the reactor with 'fresh fuel' at the current stage. The Russians intended to explain the deliberate delay by means of 'technical problems.'... Putin had personally ordered that deliberate delay in delivery." Frank also reportedly said the Russians had told him "they had made changes to the hardware that they were supposed to send to the Bushehr reactor so as to slow down the Iranian nuclear program even further."

Mohammad Karami Rad, Majles deputy from Kermanshah and member of the parliamentary Commission on National Security and Foreign Policy, said that the Iranians who have been imprisoned in Kuwait will soon be freed. He said that when Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi visited Kuwait this week, he had a productive discussion about the issue with the country's king, Sheikh Nawaf al-Ahmad al-Jaber al-Sabah. Kuwait recently announced that it had discovered secret spy networks in the country operating on Iran's behalf. Three Iranians have been tried and convicted on related charges, and sentenced to death. Iran has not had an ambassador in Kuwait for over a year. But after Salehi's trip, Iran agreed to restore an ambassadorial presence. Ruhollah Gharamani Chabok, former provincial governor of Gilan, has been appointed Iran's next ambassador to Kuwait. He will arrive there on Sunday.

Sab Industries, an Indian corporation that was active in Iran's petrochemical industry, has suddenly withdrawn from Iran. Al-Arabiya, which reflects the official views of Saudi Arabia, quoted Iran's Mehr News Agency as saying that the Indian corporation has informed the Islamic Republic that it is not longer interested in developing a petrochemical complex in Lavan, in southern Iran. Sab Industries' share in the complex was supposed to represent 53 percent of the total.

The European Union will impose sanctions on 100 Iranian companies and banks. The BBC reported that the new sanctions will be announced officially on Monday. While the names of the sanctioned corporations have not been announced yet, reports indicate that one will be the Europe-Iran Commerce Bank, which has already been sanctioned by the United States.

British Prime Minister David Cameron said that a revolt in Iran similar to those that have been taking place in the Arab world should not be ruled out. "The Iranian regime is one of the most dictatorial and most repressive of all," Cameron told lawmakers in London. "And if the Iranian people start to see that there is a future for a democratic Egypt and a democratic Tunisia and a Libyan people struggling to throw off their hideous leader, then people in Iran who have attempted this before might think, well actually we don't have to go down this autocratic path. I think we can over-demonize Iran as a country run by genius politicians who are strategic masters. In many ways it's an absolute basket case of a country. They can't even refine enough of their own oil; they are brutal in terms of using the death penalty. We should be describing the regime as much more backward rather than bigging them up."

The United States has added two Revolutionary Guard commanders to its list of Iranian officials subject to individual sanctions. The two are Major General Ghasem Soliemani, former commander of the Quds Forces, and Brigadier General Mohsen Chizari.

Copyright © 2011 Tehran Bureau

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