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The Chill Council: Supreme Leader Creates Body to Ease Regime Strife

26 Jul 2011 09:47Comments

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

SLAhmjadShahroudi.jpg9:30 a.m., 4 Mordad/July 26 Our columnist Muhammad Sahimi compiled the following news items and commentary:
Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has ordered the formation of a Supreme Council for Resolving the Differences between the Three Branches -- referring to the government's executive, legislature, and judiciary -- for which item 7 of Article 110 of the Iranian Constitution allows. To head the council, he appointed former judiciary chief Ayatollah Seyyed Mahmoud Hashemi Shahroudi (pictured with Khamenei and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad). This appears to be another attempt by Khamenei to mitigate the increasing friction between the three branches caused by the confrontation pitting Ahmadinejad and his supporters against Khamanei and his. Others named to the council include cleric Mohammad Hassan Aboutorabi, conservative journalist Morteza Nabavi, Guardian Council spokesman Abbas Ali Kadkhodaei, and Samad Mousavi Khoshdel.

Khamenei's order may also be interpreted as an attempt to bypass and further isolate Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, chairman of the the Expediency Discernment Council, which arbitrates disputes between the Guardian Council and the Majles, and provides advice to the Supreme Leader on all issues of national importance.

Majles deputy and prominent Ahmadinejad critic Ali Motahhari confirmed that some deputies had withdrawn their support for summoning the president for questioning, but said that other deputies have indicated their support for the parliamentary motion. He rejected the declaration by Mohammad Hossein Farhangi, a member of the Majles leadership team, that the issue has been dropped. Motahari emphasized that he and his supporters are still pursuing the matter.

Alireza Salimi, member of the Majles Commission on Education, said that the plan to found the International University of Iranians has been set aside and will not go forward. Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei, Ahmadinejad's chief of staff and close confidant, is reportedly the driving force behind the university, which the opposition to the president sees as another way of increasing his influence.

Prosecutor-General Gholam Hossein Mohseni Ejei denied that notorious former Tehran prosecutor Saeed Mortazavi has been cleared of culpability in the events that took place in the Kahrizak detention center during the summer of 2009. As reported by Tehran Bureau, Mortazavi, who has been accused of being a main culprit in the murder of four young students at the detention center in the aftermath of the presidential election, recently claimed that the judiciary has exonerated him and closed the case. Ejei also said that 54 people have been condemned to death over the past 14 months for various violent crimes.

Seyyed Solat Mortazavi, deputy interior minister for political affairs, said that Hossein Sadegh Abedin has been appointed as the new governor-general of Fars province in southern Iran. The province has not had a governor for three months. Demonstrators opposing Ahmadinejad prevented the last governor appointed by the Interior Ministry from entering his office by closing the gates to the building.

Several reports over the past few days have indicated that Brigadier General Rostam Ghasemi, commander of Khatam ol-Anbiya, the engineering arm of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, will be introduced by Ahmadinejad to the Majles as his nominee for the post of minister of oil. Initial reports indicated that the Guards were opposed to the appointment, but after a meeting between Ahmadinejad and top Guard commanders, an agreement was reached. Whether Ahmadinejad had to make concessions in return for their consent is not yet clear. But in the latest development, doubts have been cast on the nomination. It is speculated that Ghasemi has not accepted Ahmadinejad's conditions for taking the post.

On Saturday, hardline websites and newspapers published a list of reformists whom they claim will run in the upcoming Majles elections, to be held next March. The list included several prominent people who worked in the administration of former President Mohammad Khatami. But most of the people whose names were in the list have denied that any decision has been made, and they all said that their participation is subject to complete fulfillment of the conditions that Khatami has set for participating in the election. Elias Hazrati, manging editor of the reformist newspaper E'temad and a deputy in the Sixth Majles from 2000 to 2004, said that he has not been involved in any planning for the elections. Hadi Khamenei, half-brother of the Supreme Leader, said that he knows nothing about the list's publication. Ali Mohammad Hazeri, a university professor, said that he does not believe that "in the existing distrustful environment" the reformists have reached any decision regarding running in the elections. Mohsen Hashemi, a son of Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani and former director of Tehran subway system, made the most interesting comment: "While we thank our brothers [the hardliners] for making the decision [for us] and went through the laborious task of forming a coalition for us [the reformists], we hope that the kindness of the brothers stops here and they will not vote for us."

In reaction to Khatami's conditions for the Majles elections, Brigadier General Yadollah Javani, the hardline head of the Revolutionary Guards' political directorate, said that Mir Hossein Mousavi, Mehdi Karroubi, and Khatami must apologize to Khamenei and repent in order to be allowed to make a comeback on the political scene. Writing in Sobh-e Sadegh, the Guards' weekly mouthpiece, Javani said of the three reformist leaders, "They think that the political system needs, on the one hand, the reformists to be present in the competition [for the Majles seats], and, on the other hand, no choice but accepting the reformists' conditions. But the Islamic system is powerful and will definitely not make a concession to them. If this group is wise and realistic, [they should know that] political wisdom has issued its verdict of repentence and apology"

Popular cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali Mohammad Dastgheib, who supports the Green Movement, said that the people should participate in the upcoming Majles elections only if "Mousavi, Karroubi and the other political prisoners are released; the right of the Gaurdian Council to vet the candidates is eliminated and people's votes are respected; the Supreme Leader returns to his lawful role; and the security and military forces stop intervening in politics and the economy." Otherwise, according to Dastgheib, "The [Majles] elections will be similar to the last two presidential elections, and participating in it is neither wise nor religiously justifiable." He also accused the Guardian Council and the Assembly of Experts of not doing what they are supposed to do, but instead praise the Supreme Leader, and deterring people from active participation in the affairs of the nation.

In related news, Ayatollah Asadollah Bayat Zanjani, another cleric who supports the Green Movement, also condemned the house arrests of Mousavi and Karroubi as both illegal and religious violations. The ayatollah responded to a letter by journalist and documentary filmmaker Mohammad Nourizad, who was recently released from prison. In the letter, a copy of which was sent to some of the most prominent clerics, Nourizad posed 25 questions. Apparently, so far only Ayatollah Bayat Zanjani has responded to the letter. In his response, the ayatollah said, "In a [true] Islamic system there is no prison for the critics."

A new hardline political organization, which has declared its independence from the other principlist groups, has been formed that will be active in the Majles elections. The group, called the Resistance Front of the Islamic Revolution Forces, is apparently headed by Sadegh Mahsooli, the former interior minister known as the "billionaire minister," and Mohammad Hossein Safar Harandi, a senior adviser for cultural affairs to the Revolutionary Guards' top commander, Major General Mohammad Ali Jafari. Harandi was previously editor of Kayhan, former minister of culture and Islamic guidance in the first Ahmadinejad administration, and a brigadier general in the Guards. Others include Ruhollah Hosseinian, the hardline cleric and former official in the Ministry of Intelligence who is currently a Majles deputy; several hardline Majles deputies who used to support Ahmadinejad, such as Mehdi Koochakzadeh and cleric Hamis Rasaei; and several Guard officers. Principlists led by the Assembly of Experts Chairman Ayatollah Mohammad Reza Mahdavi Kani have been criticizing the new group. Its leaders met with Mahdavi Kani on Sunday; no details of the meeting have emerged.

Cleric Mostafa Pourmohammadi, head of the National Organization for Inspection, which monitors all government organs, said, "Unfortunately, violating and breaking the laws has cast its shadow on the social, economic, and executive affairs of the country." He added, "Unfortunately, the country's tax system also has many problems, because most of the taxes are obtained from the productive sectors of the economy. Currently, there are sectors in which a huge volume of money circulates, but is paid much less attention to by the tax system."

Mostafa Gholi Khosravi, head of the real estate agents syndicate, said that rents have increased by 30 percent. He did not specify the period over which the increase has taken place, but other reports indicate that it occurred just over the past month since the government supposedly began controlling the rents.

There has been a growing outcry over the sharp increase in crime. Statistics indicate that every day three people are murdered by "cold weapons," such as knives. Prostitution and divorce have also risen sharply, not to mention the huge number of the people that are addicted to narcotics. In a country of 75 million, there are currently 13 million cases before the courts, implying that if only two people are involved in each case, 26 million Iranians have gone to court against each other.

Distinguished journalist Mashallah (Mahmoud) Shamsolvaezin, deputy head of the League of Journalists of Iran and spokesman for the Society for Defending the Freedom of the Press, has been summoned to Evin Prison to serve his 16-month sentence. In a letter to his colleagues, Shamolvaezin said,

I will not be among you for a while. I am supposed to go to prison in order to serve my unjust sentence. This is the least we can do as the price for defending the independence of journalists and protecting journalism profession in the country. This is the fifth time over the past 10 years that I go to jail only for speaking up, not for any offense. When speaking up is considered offense in a nation, it implies that, in the opinion of those who want to put restrictions on the citizens and journalists speaking up, thinking must also be regulated. We the journalist must become a shield for the citizens so that they can express their opinions about all affairs [of the state]. Incarcerating those who defend freedom of expression and thought is the latest type of behavior that countries such as Iran have become known for in the 21st century. But, I am delighted that this type of behavior of such countries is experiencing its last resistance. I express my hope to all of my dear colleagues, particularly those journalists who, despite the shadow of all the restrictions and problems, continue their work, that all the problems will end soon, even if we have to pay a heavy price for it.

Actress and documentary filmmaker Pegah Ahangarani, who was arrested 15 days ago, was reported to have been released after posting bail. She was arrested right before departing for Germany to report on the women's football World Cup. She was highly active in the presidential campaign of Mir Hossein Mousavi in 2009. However, there was a conflicting report that Ahangarani had not been released as of midnight Monday, Tehran time. In his Monday press conference, Prosecutor-General Mohseni Ejei said that Ahangarani would be released.

Kurdish political prisoner Naser Khanizadeh died in Orumieh Prison in western Iran. He was sentenced to serve 18 months having been convicted of working with a dissident group. He was taken to the prison's medical center, where he passed away.

Eighan Shahidi, a Baha'i student who had already been expelled from his university, has been sentenced to five years of imprisonment. He was arrested in March 2010. The Baha'i religious minority is not recognized by the Islamic Republic, even though the late Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri issued a historic fatwa in which he said that they are entitled to full citizens' rights.

In a ceremony held at his home, Dr. Mohammad Maleki, first chancellor of the University of Tehran after the 1979 Revolution and a well-known nationalist-religious activist who has been repeatedly imprisoned, was honored by a group of activists for his life-long struggle for freedom and equality. Maleki, born in 1933, has long been associated with the opposition in Iran, and was a close friend of two prominent nationalist-religious figures, Ayatollah Seyyed Mahmoud Alaei Taleghani (1911-79) and Dr. Ali Shariati (1933-77). In his speech thanking the group, Maleki said, "The young people are the leaders of the protest movement of the Iranian people."

In reaction to the assassination of the scientist Dariush Rezaei-nejad on Saturday, Basij commander Brigadier General Mohammad Reza Naghdi accused the United States of being the mastermind behind the assassination. Naghdi added that Israel executes American plans, and, "Today, in order to have complete security in the country, we have no choice other than eliminating the Zionist regime [Israel] from the pages of time, so that our scientists can pursue their scientific jihad." At the same time, Minister of Intelligence Heydar Moslehi said that there are still some ambigious aspects to the assassination.

Iraq's Foreign Minister Hoshiar Zibari said in the parliament that Iran's ambassador to Iraq has been summoned to the Iraqi Foreign Ministry to explain the attacks by Revolutionary Guard forces on the Kurdish dissident group PJAK inside Iraq. Some of Iraq's members of parliament have demanded that Iraq expell Iran's ambassador, but Zibari has opposed the suggestion, At the same time, Al-Iraqiya, the opposition coalition led by Ayad Allawi, has demanded that Iraq take Iran to the United Nations Security Council over the attacks, as well as multiple border disputes.

Following the revelation that India owes Iran at least $5 billion for oil purchases, the Financial Times reports that China owes Iran $30 billion for oil that it has imported. According to the London neswpaper, U.S. sanctions imposed on Iran have made it very difficult for Iran to carry out oil transactions based on dollar, which is the dominant currency in the oil market. India and Iran are two of Iran's largest oil customers, but are having difficulty to pay cash for Iran's oil. As a result, there has been a shortage of dollar in Iran's treasury, which has prevented Iran's Central Bank from keeping the rate of exchange between the Iranian toman and other currencies at a constant level. As a result, as reported by Tehran Bureau, rial has been sharply devalued over the past month. Together, China and India buy about one third of Iran's oil. But, whereas India exports almost nothing to Iran, China is dominant in the Iranian market. Various reports indicate that China and Iran are discussing a barter system to settle the account. China and Iran's bilateral trade totalled close to $30 billion in 2010, an increase of almost 40 percent from 2009. The two countries recently signed several infrastructure and trade collaboration agreements that would see Chinese companies invest in big infrastructure projects in Iran, while Iran would export large quantities of chrome ore to China, according to local reports.

Iran, Iraq and Syria signed an agreement for a $10 billion natural-gas pipeline to be constructed between the three nations. The agreement was signed in the Assalouyeh industrial region in the southern province of Bushehr by Iran's acting oil minister Mohammad Aliabadi, Iraq's oil minister Abdul Kareem Luaiby, and Syrian counterpart Sufian Alow. According to the agreement Syria would purchase 20-25 million cubic meters a day of Iranian natural gas. Iraq and Iran have already signed an agreement for Iraq to purchase up to 25 million cubic meters a day to feed its power stations. The project requires $10 billion investment and the 900-mile-long pipeline will be constructed within three years. It will run from Assalouyeh to Damascus, passing through Iraq, with a transfer capacity of 110 million cubic meters of natural gas a day. The gas will be supplied by Iran's South Pars gas field in the Persian Gulf, shared with Qatar, which holds estimated reserves of 16 trillion cubic meters of recoverable gas.

Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi said that Iran will present documents to the German government to prove the terrorist nature of the Kurdish group PJAK. "We regard confronting PJAK as our right and we will present our documents to German government soon. We think that Germany will not be satisfied with the continuing presence of such a person [Abdulrahman Haji Ahmadi, the PJAK Leader] on its soil," he told reports Sunday on the sidelines of cabinet meeting. According to Salehi, during his phone conversation with his German counterpart Guido Westerwelle, Iran called for Germany to take measure against the group, but Westerwelle asked for documents and evidence proving the terrorist nature of the network.

Caspian Reserves, an oil company that was involved in swaps of up to 70,000 barrels a day with the National Iranian Oil Company, has taken the NIOC to international court, claiming that it suffered considerable losses as a result of Iran's abrupt end to the oil swaps. It has succeeded in convincing the courts in Europe to freeze some of NIOC's assets in Europe worth $97 million. Experts estimate that Iran's actions and abrupt ending of the swaps with the Caspian Sea countries has resulted in the loss of at least $1.25 billion so far, while at the same time decreasing Iran's influence in that region.

Copyright © 2011 Tehran Bureau

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