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Mixed Messages on Ambassador to Egypt; Moslehi Affair Roils Regime

19 Apr 2011 10:30Comments

Press Roundup provides a selected summary of news from the Iranian 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

Ali Akbar Sibouyeh. Fars News Agency caricature of IRNA director Ali Akbar Javanfekr (see below).

2:30 p.m., 30 Farvardin/April 19 Reuters reports that the chief spokesman for the Foreign Ministry of the Islamic Republic, Ramin Mehmanparast, refused to confirm the report that appeared in state-owned Iranian media that an ambassador had been appointed to Egypt. Conducting his weekly news conference, Mehmanparast stated, "The news regarding the appointment of an ambassador is guesswork and is hasty." Press TV, which continues to carry the report about the ambassador's appointment, is running three stories about Mehmanparast's news conference, none of which mentions the exchange about the matter.

10:30 a.m., 30 Farvardin/April 19 Press TV, the English-language subsidiary of Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting, reports that Iran has appointed its first ambassador to Egypt in more than three decades. Ali Akbar Sibouyeh, a career diplomat, will fill the post. According to Press TV,

Sibouyeh's appointment comes after negotiations between Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi and his Egyptian counterpart Nabil al-Arabi. [...]

The son of renowned Ayatollah Sibouyeh, the new Iranian ambassador, has held different positions in Iran's Foreign Ministry for 28 years. He headed the translation department of the ministry in the 90s and was subsequently appointed as Iran's chargé d'affaires in Tunisia, where he held the position for some four years. [...]

The post-revolution Egypt looks poised to turn a new page in its relations with the Islamic Republic as the Egyptian top diplomat, Arabi, said his country will witness a new phase in its ties with Iran.

Iran severed ties with Egypt after Cairo signed the 1978 Camp David Accords with the Israeli regime and offered asylum to Iran's deposed monarch Mohammad Reza Pahlavi.

A news item in the Wall Street Journal provides an early indication of how this development may be received in the United States and in Egypt itself. According to the report,

American officials said they are concerned that Egypt's apparent determination to re-establish relations with Iran is part of a broader reordering of its foreign policy. They worry that such a turn could empower Iran and its regional clients Hamas in the Gaza Strip and Hezbollah in Lebanon, both of which are labeled terrorist groups by the U.S. [...]

For decades, Egypt was a vital player in a Middle East balance of power: With its large population, U.S.-financed military and diplomatic ties with Israel, it was a counterweight against Israel's foes, primarily Iran and Syria. But as Iran's power in the region has grown and the Middle East has become more defined by political Islam, Egypt's reliably anti-Iranian stance cost it significant diplomatic capital. With Cairo unable to engage Tehran, it lost its position as one of the region's chief diplomatic brokers, eclipsed by Qatar, Syria and Saudi Arabia. [...]

Engaging Iran may help Egypt proceed with negotiations with Hamas, which has governed the Gaza Strip under an Israeli blockade since the group seized power from the more moderate Fatah in 2007. Any headway toward resolving the seemingly intractable Middle East conflict would be hugely popular among Egyptians, said Mohammed Abdel Salam, an expert on Iran at the government-financed Al Ahram Center for Political Strategic Studies, a Cairo think tank.

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

Since Sunday, every website and newspaper in Iran associated with the conservatives and hardliners has reported on and analyzed the resignation of Minister of Intelligence Heydar Moslehi -- or, as some claim, his firing by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad -- and his reinstatement by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Alef, the website run by conservative Majles deputy and Ahmadinejad critic Ahmad Tavakoli, quoted him as saying, "We are happy that Ahmadinejad has obeyed the order to the Supreme Leader. Every president since the Revolution has followed the views of the Leader regarding the ministers of intelligence and defense and foreign minister, and it should have been the same this time around too. It should be made clear whether the firing was because [the president's] chief of staff [Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei] was not happy about the firing of the deputy intelligence minister [Hossein Abdollahi] or had another reason."

Raja News, the website run by Fatemeh Rajabi, a reactionary supporter of Ahmadinejad, more directly accused Mashaei of being behind the firing of Moslehi. It said that Khamenei has always paid special attention to "four sensitive ministries: intelligence, foreign affairs, defense, and interior," meaning that Ahmadinejad cannot make important changes in them without obtaining the Supreme Leader's consent. Raja News reminded Ahmadinejad that his hesitancy about obeying Khamenei's order would yield a result no different than what happened when Khamenei ordered him to remove Mashaei from the post of first vice president in August 2009. Ahmadinejad stalled for a week on that occasion, but ultimately obeyed.

In an editorial titled "Those Who Should Be Fired," Hossein Shariatmadari, managing editor of Kayhan, the mouthpiece of a faction of the security forces, strongly criticized Ahmadinejad. He warned the president that he has surrounded himself with people who are not trustworthy. Without naming him, Shariatmadari accused Mashaei of being behind what has happened, including not informing IRNA, Iran's official news agency, of Khamenei's opposition to the sacking of Moslehi, and asked Ahmadinejad whether it was not time to separate himself from -- implicitly -- Mashaei. In another analysis Kayhan accused IRNA's director, Ali Akbar Javanfekr, of playing a leading role in deceiving the public by insisting that since Khamenei's order had not been posted on his official site, it was not clear whether he had actually opposed the firing of Moslehi. Kayhan accused Javanfekr and his aides of staging a coup.

Tabnak, the website that is close to Mohsen Rezaei, secretary-general of the Expediency Discernment Council and former Revolutionary Guard top commander, harshly criticized Javanfekr. Tabnak said that the only reason anybody is somebody in the political system is that his views are supported by the clerics. It accused the people around Ahmadinejad of wanting "to create a crisis in the country every day and see the continuation of their political career in creating such crises."

Jahan News, the website run by hardliner Alireza Zakani, claimed that the staff of IRNA is angry about the way Javanfekr has handled the Moslehi episode. It said that most of the staff protested the fact that Javanfekr insisted that Khamenei had not ordered Ahmadinejad to retain Moslehi as intelligence chief. Jahan News also posted the text message of Khamenei's office regarding his opposition to the firing, and reported that a website run by Javanfekr had been hacked.

Fars News Agency, which is run by the Revolutionary Guards' intelligence unit, posted a caricature of Javanfekr with a long nose, in which he says "Everybody is lying" regarding Khamenei's opposition to Moslehi's firing. The daily Javan, also operated by the Guards, claimed that the attempt to replace Moslehi was part of a bid by Ahmadinejad and Mashaei to use classified documents to advance their political agenda.

Khabar Online, the website close to Majles Speaker Ali Larijani, quoted Brigadier General Mohammad Reza Naghdi, commander of the Basij, to the effect that his forces do not intervene in political affairs. When asked what the Basij will do if Khamenei opposes further attempted changes in Ahmadinejad's cabinet, Naghdi responded that his forces are obedient to the Supreme Leader, implying that they would intervene if Khamenei so ordered.

Khabar also featured comments by Mohammad Hossein Saffar Harandi, deputy Revolutionary Guard commander for cultural affairs and former minister of culture and Islamic guidance. Saffar Harandi said that publicizing the news about Moslehi's resignation of Minister of Intelligence Heyday Moslehi was "the result of acting hastily by some problematic people. We should always be worried about the presence of such people in high positions in the government. If we want to be very optimistic, we could say these people are ill-informed." Rejecting Javanfekr's assertion that some of Khamenei's suggestions are advisory and do not have to be followed, he claimed that Khamenei was explicit in his order to retain Moslehi and that a letter including the order has been received by Ahmadinejad's office.

A speech by Saffar Harandi at the Islamic Azad University campus in northern Tehran was disrupted by many students shouting "Death to the dictator." Saffar Harandi was there on the invitation of student Basijis. He was challenged regarding fraud in the 2009 presidential election before the protest began.

Mizan Khabar, a website aligned with the nationalist-religious movement, reports that the issue of Moslehi's resignation is part of the larger struggle pitting Ahmadinejad and Mashaei against the Revolutionary Guards' high command. According to the report, Mashaei intended to replace Moslehi with Mohammad Salimi, a former judge with the Revolutionary Court and the Special Court for the Clergy. He is currently a member of the Guardian Council.

Influential conservative Majles deputy Mohammad Reza Bahonar said that the parliament is trying to avoid impeaching Ahmadinejad. He pointed to Ahmadinejad's refusal to establish the Ministry of Sports and Youth Affairs, legislation for which has been approved by the Majles, as an example of an impeachable offense. Bahonar explained that impeachment is like divorce -- one tries to avoid it for as long as possible.

There are several reports indicating that Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani intents to step down as chairman of the Expediency Discernment Council. First reported by some websites affiliated with the hardliners, the story has been picked by other Iranian outlets as well. Rafsanjani has supposedly given two reasons for his decision: that he is tired, and that Ahmadinejad chooses not to participate in the council's meetings.

In a letter to United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay, Shirin Ebadi asked her to investigate what has been happening in Khuzestan province in recent days. There was a demonstration in Ahvaz on April 16 in which Iranian Arabs protested against discrimination. Reports indicate that 12 people were killed by the security forces. In her letter, Ebadi warns that if the issue is not investigated, there may be larger-scale demonstrations and violence. She also asks the high commissioner to include the issue in Iran's human rights dossier.

Mojtaba Zolnour, deputy to Ali Saeedi, Khamenei's representative to the Revolutionary Guards, admitted that the government cannot allow the opposition to hold any peaceful gathering because "they can bring out huge crowds.... As an example, on February 14 there were a huge number of people out on the streets that scared the police, and if the Basij militia and Revolutionary Guards had not acted quickly, no one knows what may have happened." This is just the latest admission by a high-ranking official regarding the large number of people who took part in the 25 Bahman demonstrations.

Hamid Reza Katouzian, chairman of the parliament's Commission on Energy, said that Iran's oil production has decreased by about 40-45,000 barrels/day. He attributed the decline to the international sanctions imposed on the country. At the same time, Mostafa Pourmohammadi, head of the National Organization for Inspection, said that the oil industry needs new investment and a higher budget, but the government has instead made deep cuts in the budget for the current Iranian year. He said that the economic goals for this year, named the year of economic jihad by Khamenei, will not be achieved unless the oil industry grows considerably. Pourmohammadi also said that the Ahmadinejad administration's policy regarding the elimination of some subsidies will create problems for the implementation of the overall economic reform plan. He also said that if Ahmadinejad continues to refuse to implement certain legislation approved by the Majles, he will be confronted by legal means.

Javan, the daily linked with the Revolutionary Guards, claimed that Ahmadinejad and Mashaei want to reestablish diplomatic relations with the United States, from which they hope to benefitin the next presidential election in 2013. Javan also asserted that Ahmadinejad's team supports the swap of Iran's low-enriched uranium with fuel for the Tehran Research Reactor, as part of the claimed effort to improve relations between the two nations.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast confirmed reports that 12 Iranian engineers working in Afghanistan have been kidnapped by the Taliban. The kidnapping took place about 435 miles west of Kabul. Five Afghans working for the same Iranian company have also been kidnapped.

Reformist journalist Nazanin Khosravani has been sentenced to six years in jail. She was arrested last November 3 at her father's home and detained until March 15. She was released after posting $540,000 bail.

Attorney Mohammad Oliaeifar was released from prison. He was arrested in April 2010, convicted of "propaganda against the political system by granting interviews" to foreign press, and sentenced to one year in prison. He was released after serving his full sentence.

More than 100 workers at Iran's long-distance communication company demonstrated in Shiraz, protesting the fact that they have not been paid for 20 months. In his most recent trip to Shiraz, Ahmadinejad had ordered the officials to pay the workers, but that has failed to happen. The workers shouted, "Life, livelihood are our inalienable rights."

Ali Asghar Sijani, director of the documentary The Appearance Is Imminent, was arrested. The documentary has been widely distributed as a DVD. It claims that Imam Mahdi, the 12th Shia Imam who disappeared over 1,000 years ago, will soon return and that Khamanei, Ahmadinejad, and Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah of Lebanese Hezbollah will be his close confidants. The documentary was widely criticized by traditionalist grand ayatollahs, but Khamenei himself has so far been silent about it.

Hundreds of University of Tehran students protested the separation of students based on gender. Since last week, male and female students have been officially separated in all of the university's essential services and facilities, such as buses and restaurants. The protesters described the new policy as an insult. To disrupt it, male and female students were riding the buses together, until the bus service was halted and the students were threatened by the school's security officials.

Fars News Agency reported that the annual budget for the Iranian year that ended on March 20 had a shortfall of close to $15 billion. According to the report, many sources of income predicted by the government did not materialize.

Major General Yahya Rahim Safavi, senior military adviser to Khamenei and former top commander of the Revolutionary Guards said, "What Saudi Arabia did by dispatching its forces to Bahrain can be used against it." He said, "What Saudi Arabia has done is against international laws and intervention in the domestic affairs of another country, which may be used against it some day."

Copyright © 2011 Tehran Bureau

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