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UPDATED: New Uproar in Regime over Foreign Ministry Appointment

by MUHAMMAD SAHIMI in Los Angeles

20 Jun 2011 00:09Comments

Naming of 'perverted group' insider to crucial post infuriates hardliners.

A1085796-1.jpg[ dispatch ] The confrontation between Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and their respective supporters has entered a new phase, incited by the appointment of a deputy foreign minister. [See bottom of page for updates.]

As reported by Tehran Bureau, Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi has appointed Mohammad Sharif Malekzadeh as his deputy in charge of financial and administrative affairs. Malekzadeh is a close associate of Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei, Ahmadinejad's chief of staff, confidant, and in-law. His appointment has angered Khamenei's hardline supporters, to the point that a group of Majles deputies have drawn up a proposal to impeach Salehi. The Ayandeh News website, which is close to Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, has published a detailed account of the developments. On Sunday, Salehi attended a meeting of the Majles Commission on National Security and Foreign Policy, answering questions and fielding many angry comments.

What seems to have angered the hardliners most, in addition to Malekzadeh's association with the so-called "perverted group" -- codename for Mashaei and his inner circle -- is that he will have vast authority in the Foreign Ministry. In an interview on May 31, Salehi talked about the extensive changes that he was implementing at the ministry at Ahmadinejad's behest. According to Salehi, the deputy for financial and administrative affairs -- along with automatic membership in the influential Council of Foreign Minister's Deputies -- will be in charge of five divisions: education, administration, support, financial affairs, and planning. In addition, the Foreign Ministry office in the northeastern city of Mashhad and the office responsible for selecting new ministry staff will be under Malekzadeh's purview. Finally, he will have authority over the inspection of all Iranian embassies and foreign missions. [Read here how Salehi has publicly defied the Supreme Leader in the past.]

Before his appointment to the new post, Malekzadeh was secretary-general of the Supreme Council for Iranian Expatriates, founded last year and headed by Mashaei. After the council brought a large number of expatriates to Tehran last summer and paid for all of their and their families' expenses, the Majles reacted strongly. Last October, the parliament voted to begin inspecting the council's work. In the budget resolution that was approved by the Majles for the current Iranian year, the line item for the council was eliminated.

The attacks on Malekzadeh's appointment were initiated by Ahmad Tavakoli, a critic of Ahmadinejad and head of the Majles Research Center. He criticized the fact that the report on the activities of the Expatriates Council had not yet been submitted to the Majles. By law, the report must be filed at most six months after the inspection is authorized -- in this case, the end of April. Tavakoli said, "If the results of the work of the inspection committee had been brought to and read in the Majles by its deadline, a person who has hundreds of pages against him in the judiciary would not have been appointed as deputy foreign minister." It is widely believed that Malekzadeh is under investigation by the judiciary. He denied a report that he has been interrogated, a report that was, however, confirmed by the 7-e Sobh website, which is closely aligned with Mashaei. Tavakoli criticized those who "buy their children a watch for 45 million tomans [$38,000] and Mercedes-Benz for 160 million tomans [$135,000]," and then "are appointed as deputy minister." He said that he had spoken about these issues with Salehi. By Tavakoli's account, the foreign minister said that he had seen no evidence supporting the charges. Tavakoli reportedly responded, "Ask the Ministry of Intelligence and the judiciary."

Others went after Salehi more directly. Mohammad Dehghan, a member of the Majles leadership as well as its Commission on Law, declared that if Salehi "gives the control of the Foreign Ministry to the perverted group," the Majles will impeach him. Two other deputies, Alaeddin Boroujerdi, head of the Majles Commission on National Security and Foreign Policy, and hardliner Parviz Sarvari, a commission member, implicitly threatened Salehi with impeachment.

Zohreh Elahian, another member of the National Security and Foreign Policy Commission, told Mehr, the news agency run by the Organization for Islamic Propaganda, that Salehi has promised to fire Malekzadeh if he is convicted by the judiciary. She said that Salehi was made aware of the fact that several Majles deputies are collecting signatures for a proposal for his impeachment, and added that the foreign minister apparently was not aware that Malekzadeh is being investigated by the judiciary. Salehi was told to consider the record of Malekzadeh, and "make the appropriate decision."

Ten signatures are required for the Majles to debate the impeachment and 25 are needed for the proposal to move forward to a vote. According to Aftab News, another website close to Rafsanjani, so far 15 deputies have put their signatures on the impeachment proposal, including Ruhoolah Hosseinian, once a close ally of Ahmadinejad's. Jahan News, the website published by hardline Majles deputy Ali Reza Zakani, put the number at 21 and included the names of all the signatories. Jahan also reported that members of the National Security and Foreign Policy Commission suggested to Salehi that he resign if he cannot reverse Malekzadeh's appointment. Salehi told the commission that if someone has a previous conviction, his involvement in diplomacy is not in the national interest.

As I have reported, Ahmadinejad and Mashaei have been trying to wrest control of the Foreign Ministry out of Khamenei's hands. Last September, while Manouchehr Mottaki was still foreign minister, Ahmadinejad appointed several "special presidential envoys" for different regions of the globe. This move was blocked by Khamenei. Then, while he was meeting with the president of Senegal during a mission there, Mottaki was informed that he had been fired. Salehi was subsequently appointed to replace him.

Mashregh News, a website close to the security forces, proffered a list of eight alleged reasons why Malekzadeh was appointed to his new post. Among them: to put the selection process for 45 new ambassadors under Ahmadinejad and Mashaei's direct control; to provide cover for foreign trips by the Mashaei group and their transfer of commercial activities and profits abroad; and to give the Foreign Ministry authority over the Supreme Council for Iranian Expatriates. In addition, Mashregh suggested that Malekzadeh's appointment may make it more difficult for the judiciary to order his arrest.

Mohammad Javad Abtahi, a parliamentary supporter of Ahmadinejad's, criticized the proposal to impeach Salehi. Abtahi said, "When we trust the foreign minister [by giving him our vote of confidence], we should also trust him with his appointments, which are a minor issue." Abtahi then warned those who want to impeach Salehi, saying, "If impeachment is approved, Ahmadinejad will appoint Malekzadeh as acting foreign minister."

Adding to the complexity of the situation is the report that Mashaei recently made a secret trip to Saudi Arabia. Esmail Kosari, deputy head of the National Security and Foreign Policy Commission has confirmed the report. It had been rumored that Salehi would go to Saudi Arabia, which angered the hardliners, given the current friction between Iran and Saudi Arabia over Bahrain. Salehi denied that he he planned to make any such trip. Now the rumors that Mashaei went to Saudi Arabia has further angered Khamenei's hardline base of support.

Interestingly, Malekzadeh used to be a deputy to Dr. Abdollah Jasbi, chancellor of Islamic Azad University, which has long been considered a locus of power for Rafsanjani and opposition to Ahmadinejad. After Ahmadinejad was elected president in 2005 and appointed Mashaei to head the Organization for Cultural Heritage and Tourism, he brought Malekzadeh in and appointed him as his deputy. He was then appointed by Mashaei as the head of a council for the defense of Iranian expatriates, and then secretary-general of the Supreme Council for Iranian Expatriates.

***

UPDATE: In an interview with ISNA, the Iranian Students' News Agency, Malekzadeh said that his response to the accusations against him is "silence." In his words, "All the accusations are sheer lies. I ask those who accuse me to publish [the details] of one case against me, if there are several, and I also ask Mr. Tavakoli to publish in his own website the case in which the judiciary [supposedly interrogated] me. I do not know what it is that Mr. Tavakoli is pursuing, but whatever he has said [against me] has become an excuse for the counterrevolutionaries to attack the government and state."

Tavakoli, meanwhile, said that the number of Majles deputies who have signed the proposal to impeach Salehi has reached 31. He added that Tehran Prosecutor-General Abbas Jafari Dolatabadi told the foreign minister that Malekzadeh is on the verge of being arrested, but that Salehi ignored the warning. Tavakoli also declared that he was not referring to Malekzadeh when he talked about people who buy their children expensive watches and Mercedes-Benzes and then "are appointed as deputy minister," but was rather speaking "symbolically."

Regarding Salehi, Seyyed Mohammad Reza Mir Tajeddini, Ahmadinejad's vice president for parliamentary affairs, observed that the "foreign minister began his work only recently." Speaking with ISNA, Mir Tajeddini said, "It is not common to impeach someone so soon. Appointments are under the government's purview. Mr. Salehi met with the Majles Commission on National Security and Foreign Policy; it was a good meeting and we hope that the issue will not end with impeachment. [I am certain] it will not go that way, and we will negotiate and meet, so that God willing there will not be an impeachment, because that is not appropriate, given the internal and external situation of the country."

UPDATE: Malekzadeh resigned on Tuesday.

Copyright © 2011 Tehran Bureau

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