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Ahmadinejad & Family Take on 'New' Foreign Policy

02 Sep 2009 10:5215 Comments

The joke in Iran is that the country has three Foreign Ministers, including Johns Hopkins-educated pediatrician, Ali Akbar Velayati (in gray suit), special adviser on foreign affairs to Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Archive photo.
By MUHAMMAD SAHIMI in Los Angeles | 2 Sept 2009

When Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was elected the president in 2005, he promised "a cabinet of 70 million," meaning that his government would include people from all strata of society. In practice, that did not happen.

To the contrary, he appointed his old friends and comrades from his years at the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), colleagues from Iran University of Science and Technology, where he was on the faculty, and those very close to his religious leader, Ayatollah Mohammad Taghi Mesbah Yazdi.

Ahmadinejad has also appointed close relatives to sensitive positions.

His brother, Davood Ahmadinejad, is the head of the Presidential Inspection Organization. Ismail Ahmadi Moghaddam, a brother-in-law, is the chief of police. Masoud Zaribafan, another brother-in-law, was the cabinet secretary. A third brother-in-law, Alireza Ahmadi, was Minister of Education. Ahmadinejad's sister, Parvin, was deputy head of the Center for Women's Affairs. Ahmadinejad also helped her get elected to Tehran's city council in 2006. Parvin's husband, Hossein Shabiri, is the head of Mehr Reza Donation Deposits, a large charity organization.

Zaribafan's brothers-in-law, Alireza and Davood Madadi, hold important positions in the Social Welfare Organization. Two other relatives, Mohammad Nazemi Ardekani and Davood Danesh Jafari, were Ministers of Cooperatives and Economy respectively. Zaribafan's son-in-law, Mohsen Nabavi, is a member of the Board of the Foreign Investment Organization.

Ahmadinejad also brought Hashemi Samareh and his family into government -- they are extremely close to Mesbah Yazdi. Mojtaba Hashemi Samareh (whose maternal uncle, Mohammad Javad Bahonar, is the deputy Speaker of the Majles), was a senior advisor, and for a while supervisor of elections in the interior ministry. In the June election, he was Ahmadinejad's campaign manager. His brother, Mehdi, is general manager of the Ministry of Energy. Another brother, Abdolhamid, was deputy Minister of Industry, and the Minister is Ali Akbar Mehrabian, Ahmadinejad's nephew. Mojtaba Hashemi Samareh's brother-in-law, Ali Kheyrandish, has obtained lucrative contracts from the Ministry of Oil.

The list here is just the tip of the iceberg. Numerous friends were appointed to very sensitive government positions, including Sadegh Mahsouli, the "billionaire minister," who got the Interior Ministry, and Parviz Davoodi, who was appointed as First Vice President (Iran has eight vice presidents). Many of those appointees brought in their own relatives, including their wives, to take up important positions within the government organs that they were heading.

Ahmadinejad also replaced 40 of Iran's ambassadors to foreign countries, including some of the most experienced ones: Mohammad Javad Zarif (Iran's representative to the United Nations), Sadegh Kharrazi (ambassador to France), Shamsoddin Kharghani (ambassador to German), and Mohammad Hossein Adeli (ambassador to Britain).

The last three diplomats had played constructive roles in improving Iran's relations with the European Union during the administration of former president Mohammad Khatami.

Zarif, a moderate conservative, had played an important role in the formation of Afghanistan's national unity government, which emerged after the December 2001 conference in Bonn, Germany, where the future of that country after the overthrow of the Taliban had been discussed. Zarif had daily meetings with James Dobbins, the U.S. envoy, discussing ways in which Iran could help the formation of the Afghan government. When negotiations were on the verge of collapse, due to the intransigence of some of the Afghan groups allied with Iran, it was Zarif who convinced them to join the government. After the formation of the Afghan national unity government, Dobbins, testifying before the U.S. Senate, praised Zarif for the constructive role that he had played.

Ahmadinejad replaced such seasoned diplomats with people who had very little experience in foreign policy. The most important characteristic of the new ambassadors were their loyalty to the hardliners. At that time, the replacements were justified based on the argument that Ahmadinejad wished to pursue a new foreign policy. The new appointees were close in thinking to him, especially with respect to new directions in Iran's foreign policy.

Now that Ahmadinejad has begun a second term after the rigged June "election," the same trends have dominated his new cabinet picks, subject to confirmation by Majles. In addition to many of those listed above, who will be back in the government, Ahmadinejad has continued to appoint people close to him to posts for which they have no expertise or experience.

For example, Sayyed Hamid Behbahani, Ahmadinejad's Ph.D. thesis advisor, is the nominee for the Minister of Road and Transportation. Supporters of Ahmadinejad in the Majles have claimed that Behbahani is "the father of roads in Iran," a most ridiculous claim. Note that Behbahani helped Ahmadinejad receive his Ph.D. degree while he was working full-time as the governor-general of Ardabil province in northwestern Iran.

Alireza Zakani, a hard-line Majles deputy, has harshly criticized Behbahani, claiming that he does not teach his classes in Iran University of Science and Technology (where Ahmadinejad received his doctorate), but flies to the seaport town of Chah Bahar (on the southeastern edge of Iran on the Oman Sea) to teach there, while continuing to draw a salary from the university. He claimed that even the time of the flight from Tehran to Chah Bahar has been moved from 11:00 a.m. to 8:00 a.m. to accommodate Behbahani's schedule.

The word in Tehran is that Iran -- Ahmadinejad rather -- needs new ambassadors, and not just 40 new ones as in 2005, but 80. In other words, not only will the 40 ambassadors who had been appointed in 2005-06 and justified by arguing that Iran's diplomacy needed new blood, have to be replaced, but 40 others still.

Two reliable sources in Iran's foreign ministry have told the author that the ministry is in chaos, with at least two factions vying for influence. One group consists of the traditional conservatives that have been at the Ministry since Ali Akbar Velayati was the Foreign Minister from 1981-1997. The second group consists of those who have been brought by Ahmadinejad into the Ministry, with very little, if any, experience in foreign affairs.

Although Manouchehr Mottaki is officially Iran's Foreign Minister, he is often overruled by the hardliners. The men who have more power than Mottaki are Saeed Jalili, secretary of the Supreme National Security Council and the chief nuclear negotiator, and Velayati who is the Supreme Leader's advisor on foreign affairs. Ahmadinejad tried to appoint Jalili as the new Foreign Minister, but the appointment was blocked by higher authorities (i.e., the Supreme Leader and his inner circle). It was decided that Mottaki will stay on as the Foreign Minister, apparently signaling that hard-line Saeedi will not lead Iran's negotiations with the West. Incidentally, Mottaki has appointed his wife, Tahereh Nazari Mehr, as the head of human rights and women affairs at the foreign ministry.

About a year ago the joke in Tehran was that Iran has three Foreign Ministers (FM): Ahmadinejad's FM Jalili; Mottaki, FM for Ali Larijani, the Speaker of the Majles who was Iran's chief nuclear negotiator from 2005-2007; and Velayati, FM for Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Note that Mottaki was Larijani's campaign manager in his unsuccessful bid for the presidency in 2005. The same characters are still present on the political scene.

Iran's most seasoned diplomats have either been forced into retirement, or have left the foreign ministry. In their place there are and will more people whose only "qualification" is close ties to Ahmadinejad and the hardliners. Fars News Agency, which is controlled by the IRGC, has reported that the new ambassadors will be selected from amongst those "experts who believe in the principles of the Revolution," hard-liners' new code word for those who support their election coup. Sadegh Mahsouli, the former Interior Minister, is rumored to become Iran's representative to the United Nations.

In an apparent gaffe, Fars reported that one reason the ambassadors were being replaced en masse, was that many of them supported the demonstrations against the rigged election. Rooz, the online daily, reported that some of the ambassadors to be axed had refused to video tape the demonstrations that took place by Iranians in the Diaspora in front of their embassies in foreign capitals, in order to identify the leaders of the demonstrations.

Copyright (c) 2009 Tehran Bureau

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Ahmadinejad, he'll soon be lost & disintegrated with his wooden cabinet...when the fire takes hold. It will be a good practice run for the heat of the "Hell-fires"!

v.gerrard / September 2, 2009 10:58 AM

This nightmare scenario is worsening. How could the Majles be so doltish by approving the appointments of those unseasoned unscrupulous people especially blood relations and friends of Ahmadinejad to key government positions? In this case, Iran has become a big family corporation. Corruption is unavoidable. There will be no checks and balances. What gives me a sense of unease, is the seeming scarcity of competence in the government. There is an obvious feeling of malaise all over the government that the people found it amazing that it is going to collapse. This signifies the collapse of government competence. I dread to think what might be next. I am not surprise that the problems in Iran are mounting and crisis is unstoppable.

shetty / September 2, 2009 11:10 AM

I blame this nepotism on the 53 coup and western imperialism.

If only that didn't happen, Iranians would have built a Jeffersonian democracy and a utopia like the world has never seen before. The CIA just had to genetically modify Iranians to be irrational and emotional and intolerant barbarians and went as far as to manipulate islam! That beautiful (and 'cosmopolitan' if you believe hamid dabashi, I've read it in one of his articles when he's not relishing the 9/11 attacks as acts of muslim masculinity) religion was changed by the imperialists (not the arab ones, those were liberators) and poor iranians were fooled! Oh they were fooled. The perfect word of god, the quran, couldn't withstand western imperialism! now however iranians have liberated themselves with people like soroush and kadivar calling for a theocracy by the vote of the people, a homophobic tyranny elected and approved by the people. The battle for TRUE ISLAM however rages on, apparently god's words was so perfect that everybody believes their interpenetration is the right one. What do you know? He doesn't seem to care to come down here and set things straight though.

I admit this post is like a dumb youtube reply but I'm too tried to bother with anything better, it was a stream of conscious post kind of thing, doesn't change its truth. Not that it would pass the censorship though. :p

Oreo / September 2, 2009 11:15 AM

Correction pls. Last sentence should read - I am not surprised.....

shetty / September 2, 2009 11:25 AM

Oreo - Stop blaming the past for what's happening in Iran today. That kind of thinking and argument whitewashes those who should be held accountable for the events of the last 30 years and the current state of affairs in Iran.

This is not an old CIA coup; it's a coup by Ahmadinejad/IRGC and their theological mentor, Mesbah Yazdi. Hundreds and hundreds of Iranian tyrants big and small are complicit in this coup, from the rapists and torturers to the MPs who're endorsing it by voting for this cabinet. They're on the government's payroll and sustained by oil money, not by foreign funds.

mahasti / September 2, 2009 3:40 PM

Great report, by the way. TehrhanBureau is tops.

We also need information on the financial power structure behind the system, both in terms of institutions and individual players.

We focus on the political theatre, but what drives the financial game plan? So little is known about such an important question.

mahasti / September 2, 2009 3:50 PM

If Ahmadinejad would have kept everything the same, then he would have been criticized, now that he is changing all the cabinet and ambasadors he is still being criticized. Ahmadinejad, unlike Obama Mr. Sahimi doesnt just speak of change (Obama brought all status quo appointees).

Ali / September 2, 2009 4:01 PM

pssst ... mahasti ... i think oreo was being sarcastic.

just keep that between us though.

Maziar / September 2, 2009 4:09 PM

Nice troll post Ali

Maziar / September 2, 2009 6:07 PM

In the foreground of this article's accompanying photo, you can make out Iran's head of state aircraft, a vintage Boeing 707.

Back in 2004, one showed up in Europe for the Davos summit, and a dedicated froup of aviation buffs flocked to the airport to see and photograph the classic jet airplane.

At Mehrabad airport, a retired 707 jetliner has actually been converted into a restaurant.

Pirouz / September 2, 2009 7:01 PM

Ali, you are right!!!! Ahmadinejad is bringing change, a change to bring about more corruption, tyranny, torture, killings, imprisonments, oppression, etc. espcially that now his whole family and friends (the lovely IRGC and Basiij) are going to take over the goverment and steal as much money as they want to fill up their bank accounts even more and silence anyone who voices a little discontent. And let's not forget the other evil character Mesbah Yazdi the spiritual (LOL) of Ahmadinejad. What a bunch. Could not get any worse than this. I feel really bad for the people of Iran who have to start getting used to living in a complete dictatorship for a while.

Minoo / September 2, 2009 10:27 PM

Amaddon (Amaddon in Ireland means fool or a fake) & his family of "Gurriers"

(Gurriers in Ireland means scumbags or hooligans)!

Jaker / September 2, 2009 10:52 PM


i dont want to comment on this particular article which is wholly writen on "Angeryfull prespective" and is not balanced.

Let me dispense the full insult of the article context in general and take few points which you have raised..

( About a year ago the joke in Tehran was that Iran has three Foreign Ministers (FM): Ahmadinejad's FM Jalili; Mottaki, FM for Ali Larijani, the Speaker of the Majles who was Iran's chief nuclear negotiator from 2005-2007; and Velayati, FM for Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.) . it seems that un-elected elites in the iranian politics have taken ground that is the assumption, but you know iran is not Qatar, it is a big nation..

I think this notion has been categorically clarified by a respected Iran Anlyst.. he said (Iran's conciliatory and defiance stances are fully reflective of the multiple power centers of the Islamic republic... and this should not be intrepreted as weaknesses beause all are united on the indepedence and the integrity of the nation..)

you see the superem leader has power ( though ultimate word), President has powers, the Majlis speaker, IRGC, GC, EC, Indepedents, Reformists, Conservatives (now principalists), media, street.)

You see this feature is what confused the West policy-makers and Anlysts from ( Neo-cons think- thanks to the Liberals-to foreign establishment staffers ( who are mainly tended to be jewish)

so, these anlysts and those in their following are saying ( the Un-elected elites has taken ground in Iran) because they deny the Iran's particular circumstances ... ( that east and west are different) so even when democratic discourse takes place they can and will never accept ( this was clear in Hama's victory over years ago.. N.B the plestinans were pressured to mkae reforms, but what happened was that pleastians elected "Hamas" through democratic institutions.. imdidiately after the contemplation was to sige the plestinaians politically, economically, ...

so i see them repeating the Dogmatism took over Pragmatism in Iranian politcs.

I am not in way supportive of Ahmedinejad's political stances nor Mosassvi..

abdikadir / September 3, 2009 6:02 AM

Dr. Sahimi,

It is great that you expose nepotism. However, do you think there would be less nepotism in Iran if the greens were running the show today? I seriously doubt it .... no one deserves to be called father of nepotism in Iran under IRI, more than Rafsanjani, the strongest supporter of the green movement.

Hopefully with efforts of people such as yourself, and passage of time, there will be less AshnA bAzi in Iran in the future ...

#best regards

anonym7 / September 4, 2009 12:40 PM

Dear Anonym7:

I agree with you. The intent was not to mask what Rafsanjani has done. Hopefully, I'll soon post a profile of him.

Muhammad Sahimi / September 4, 2009 3:37 PM