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Ahmadinejad Absent Again; Mass Poison-Pen Text Targets Mashaei

27 Apr 2011 11:15Comments

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

Presidential chief of staff Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei. Interior Minister Mostafa Mohammad Najar.

10:30 p.m., 7 Ordibehesht/April 27 President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad failed to attend a second consecutive meeting of his cabinet on Wednesday, reports Fars, the news agency controlled by the intelligence unit of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. Like the previous cabinet meeting from which the president was absent, the session was chaired by First Vice President Mohammad Reza Rahimi. Ahmadinejad was also absent on Tuesday from a meeting of the Supreme Council for Cultural Revolution, of which he is chairman. The council oversees educational and cultural matters.

The president has not appeared in public since last Friday, fueling suspicion that the recent conflict between Ahmadinejad and Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has escalated. The crisis erupted last week over the apparently forced resignation of Intelligence Minister Heydar Moslehi and the minister's reinstatement by Khamenei against Ahmadinejad's wishes. The Borna News website, which is connected with IRNA, the Ahmadinejad-aligned official news agency, reports that the president told a visitor of a "conspiracy" to rein in his power and prerogatives. According to Borna, Ahmadinejad declared that he has decided to "settle the problem directly with the Supreme Leader."

Our columnist Muhammad Sahimi also provides these updates:

The clerics around Khamenei continued to warn Ahmadinejad. While they do not mention him by name, they clearly target him by defining what it means to be the president in the Islamic Republic and how everyone must obey the Supreme Leader. Ali Saeedi, Khamenei's representative to the Revolutionary Guards, said that disobeying the Supreme Leader is tantamount to disobeying God and Imam Mahdi. He said, "When it comes to obeying Khamenei, there is no difference between any of the people. Whenever an official has hesitated obeying the Supreme Leader, it has caused problems for the country."

Seyyed Ahmad Alam al-Hoda, the Imam of Friday Prayers in Mashhad, said, "All the officials, ministers, Majles deputies, judiciary chief, and the president who want to serve the nation must obey the orders of the Supreme Leader. If they do not do so, their position has no legitimacy, even if people have elected them." He continued, "When people elect the president, their votes are just a bunch of zeroes. What gives meaning to the zeroes is the Supreme Leader's certification of the vote."

Assembly of Experts member Seyyed Ali Akbar Gharebaghi compared the current situation to the one involving Abolhassan Bani Sadr, the Islamic Republic's first president, who was impeached in June 1981 after he clashed with Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. "The most efficient model of governance is one with the Supreme Leader," said Gharebaghi. "Bani Sadr thought that because he had 12 million votes, he could oppose the Imam [Khomeini]. His problem was that he did not understand what it meant to oppose the Imam. He thought that the people voted for him, but did not know that without the Supreme Leader he had no legitimacy."

Iranian journalist Houshang Asadi has been awarded the International Human Rights Book Award for 2011. Asadi won the award, founded in 2006, for his book Letters to My Torturer, which is about the time that he spent in prison in the Islamic Republic. He was also imprisoned during the reign of Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi. The award will be presented to Asadi on June 1 by the mayor of Vienna, Austria.

11:15 a.m., 7 Ordibehesht/April 27 Our columnist Muhammad Sahimi compiled the following news items and commentary:

On Sunday, a text message was sent from within the Ministry of Economic and Financial Affairs to thousands of people around Iran, including many journalists. In the text, Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's chief of staff, was accused of having links with foreign powers, of being behind several oil contracts with Chinese and Venezuelan corporations whose details have been kept secret, and, most important, of having installed eavesdropping equipment in the office of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Ahmadinejad was also accused of being aware of Mashaei's economic activities and of taking no action. The text also accused Mashaei of traveling to Dubai, nominally as part of an economic team, but meeting with security officials of the United States there. The message claimed that the information has been obtained by the intelligence unit of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. The intelligence unit is headed by Hossein Taeb, a notorious cleric and former Basij commander who played a leading role in the crimes that took place in summer 2009 in the Kahrizak detention center, in which at least four of the many young demonstrators held there were killed. Taeb is a strong supporter of Khamenei.

The text message also claimed that the Ministry of Intelligence has a considerable amount of classified information about Mashaei and that Hossein Abdollahi, the former deputy minister for planning and budget, who is close to Mashaei, passed it to him. The text claimed that this is what led to Adollahi's firing by Minister of Intelligence Heydar Moselehi, which in turn triggered Moslehi's forced resignation, reinstatement by Khamenei, and the ongoing confrontation between the two camps. The message also declared that the traditional senior clerics have stopped supporting the Ahmadinejad administration.

The journalists who received the message were then contacted and told not to use the text or mention it anywhere. They were also ordered to remove it from all websites. But Tabnak, the website that reflects the views of Mohsen Rezaei, the conservative secretary-general of the Expediency Discernment Council and former top commander of the Revolutionary Guards, confirmed that the text message had been sent, although it claimed that its contents ran counter to the positive results of the Ahmadinejad administration's economic policy. But Tabnak also removed the message after a few hours, claiming that hackers had attacked the system that sent the text message. (The title of the Internet address of the Tabnak report says, "The source of the text message of the Ministry of Economic Affairs was hacked," but the page itself is empty and has no content.) If the journalists were asked not to use the text message, then Tabnak's claim appears to be absurd to the author.

On Monday, Khamenei met with senior commanders of the national police and Interior Minister Mostafa Mohammad Najar. During the meeting, Khamenei warned the officials not to air their differences publicly. Quoting Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, he said, "Say what you want in [private] meetings, but do not publicize them because people are innocent." At the same time, the ultraconservative website Raja News criticized the practice, which it described as now common, of publicly revealing classified information and the contents of secret meetings between high officials. These are the latest indications that the hardliners fear that the divisions in their ranks will be taken by the people as a sign of their weakness, and strengthen the ranks of the opposition Green Movement.

Eshrat Shayegh, a conservative former Majles deputy, accused the "perverted group" around Ahmadinejad -- a reference to Mashaei and his inner circle -- of being behind the Moslehi affair. Writing in Alef, the website published by Ahmad Tavakoli, the conservative Majles deputy and Ahmadinejad critic, Shayegh said that the group wants to create chaos in the country for its own benefit. She declared, "The perverted group is so sure of the righteousness of its own thinking that it does not leave open any possibility that it might be wrong in certain cases."

The weekly Sobh-e Sadegh, the mouthpiece of the Revolutionary Guards' political directorate, also criticized Ahmadinejad. An article by Rasoul Sanaei-Rad claimed that the fiasco regarding Moslehi was created due to "the penetration of the sedition [Green Movement] tied with the Hojjatiyeh Society, which wishes to take over the Islamic Republic." The article rebukes Ahmadinejad, declaring, "Lack of consultation and coordination with the Supreme Leader is in violation of a rational way that takes into account the interests of the political system." Sobh-e Sadegh called Ahmadinejad "unappreciative" because he "has preferred the interests of the group [around him] over the reality [of the power structure]."

On Monday evening, Tehran time, Ahmadinejad met with Khamenei. According to Aftab News, the website that reflects the views of Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, Ahmadinejad spoke with the ayatollah about his concerns. But a trip that Ahmadinejad and his cabinet were supposed to make to Qom has been cancelled. There were rumors, beginning on Sunday, that Ahmadinejad had resigned from the presidency. The rumors became stronger when his cabinet met without him and was presided over by First Vice President Mohammad Reza Rahimi. There have been unconfirmed reports that Majles Speaker Ali Larijani and Assembly of Experts Chairman Ayatollah Mohammad Reza Mahdavi Kani met with Ahmadinejad and asked him to resume his work.

Amir Hossein Sabeti, a law student at the University of Tehran and a Basij member, who played a part in the crackdown on peaceful demonstrators wrote in his blog that in his meeting with Khamenei, Ahmadinejad set three conditions to continue in his office: appointment of Mashaei as his first vice president, removal of Moslehi from the post of intelligence minister, and removal of Saeed Jalili as secretary-general of the Supreme National Security Council and chief nuclear negotiator. After just a few hours, the entry disappeared and Sabeti claimed that his blog had been attacked by hackers. In August 2009, Ahmadinejad did appoint Mashaei as his first vice president, but the appointment was blocked by Khamenei. Jalili, who used to be an ally of Ahmadinejad, played a crucial role in the failure of nuclear negotiations with the 5 + 1 group -- the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council plus Germany.

The Majles continued debating the budget for the current Iranian year submitted by the Ahmadinejad administration. In a speech to the parliament, Tavakoli condemned the budget. He accused Ahmadinejad of repeatedly breaking the law, both in its letter and sprit, and criticized what he described as the increasing reliance of political decision making on horse trading, rather than sound economic policies. Tavakoli also criticized the fact that many projects have been left incomplete, even as new ones have been started, saying that the delay in finishing the older projects has cost the nation $47 billion over the past nine years. He said the new budget for the Iranian year that began on March 21 will act as a brake, rather than an accelerator, when it comes to the development of the country.

Another Majles deputy, Mohammad Reza Khabbaz, said that even a miracle will not be able to create 2.5 million new jobs in the current year, as promised by Ahmadinejad. Mostafa Kavakebian, a deputy from Semnan, said that no one believes the government's promises and projections for job creation. Hamid-Reza Fouladgar, a deputy who used to be a supporter of the administration, said that by presenting fake statistics, the government does not help the economy to improve. He criticized the Central Bank for not publishing crucial statistics on the state of the economy for three years. Meanwhile, the first report by the Central Bank in more than 15 months indicates that the government's debt to the Central Bank has increased by more than 100 percent during the period, and now stands at $55 billion.

Several deputies then demanded that Majles Speaker Ali Larijani summon Ahmadinejad to explain his reasons for breaking the law. Parleman News, the website of the reformist deputies, reported that 12 deputies specifically asked Larijani to summon Ahmadinejad as the first step toward impeaching him. At the end of the debate, the Majles approved the general outlines of the budget with 149 deputies voting in favor, and 61 opposed.

There were persistent speculations that Mojtaba Samareh Hashemi, a senior adviser to Ahmadinejad, had resigned. On Tuesday, Hashemi denied the reports.

Fararu, a conservative website, reports that Ahmadinejad has asked Interior Minister Najar to resign. Najar, a brigadier general and defense minister in the first Ahmadinejad administration, does not belong to the inner circle of the president and Mashaei. In addition, he is believed to have good relations with Khamenei. The Interior Ministry plays the most important role in the elections, supervising and monitoring them, counting the votes for each candidate, and reporting the results to the Guardian Council for certification.

Jaras reports that in a meeting with the Tehran City Council, Ahmadinejad stated that after the assassination of one nuclear scientist and the attempted assassination of another last November, he wanted to replace the interior, intelligence, and defense ministers -- Najar, Moslehi, and Ahmad Vahidi, respectively. But he decided to wait until the country calmed down. According to the report, Ahmadinejad also claimed that he received 35 million votes in the 2009 election, but decided to keep silent when his votes were undercounted. When the council's members asked him to be patient regarding Khamenei's reinstatement of Moslehi, he reportedly responded, "How can you expect me to be patient? My authority was limited to picking the ministers, but now even that has been taken away from me." Reports from various sources indicate that Ahmadinejad is still angry over the Moslehi affair.

Ayatollah Ali Mohammad Dastgheib, the popular cleric from Shiraz who supports the Green Movement, strongly criticized the harassment and arrest of his students and followers. Some of them have been fined, while others have received jail sentences and been defrocked. In his speech to his students, the ayatollah said, "What have they [his students] done that you have cut off their stipends, forced them to do military service, expelled them from Friday Prayers, and defrocked them? Has this outfit [the clerical robe] become so terrible that pious people should not wear it?"

Three senior officers of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps died in a car accident in North Khorasan province. According to the hardline-aligned Mashregh News website, one of the three was Colonel Seyyed Ali Shad-Mehr, a commander of Iranian forces during the Iran-Iraq War.

Mahmoud Bahmani, governor of the Central Bank, proposed that the plan to delete four zeroes from the Iranian currency -- so that one rial and one dollar will be roughly equal -- should be put to a national referendum. The Islamic Republic Constitution does allow for holding referenda on important issues facing the nation. Bahmani claimed that deleting the zeroes, which has not yet received final approval. will not reduce the purchasing power of the people.

As reported previously by Tehran Bureau, seven political prisoners in Karaj's Rajaei Shahr Prison have been conducting weekly hunger strikes, refusing to consume any food for several days a week. Their complete statement is here. The seven are Mansour Oslanloo, Rasoul Bodaghi, Majid Tavakoli, Isa Saharkhiz, Keyvan Samimi, Heshmatollah Tabarzadi, and Mehdi Mahmoudian. Five other political prisoners, Behrouz Javid-Tehrani, Ali Ajami, Jafar Eghdami, Reza Sharifi Boukani, and Khaled Hordani, have joined the strike.

Hundreds of students at Amir Kabir University of Technology in Tehran, a hotbed of anti-government activities, gathered on the campus to protest the poor conditions in the dormitories, the poor quality of food, and the sudden sharp increase in tuition. The university had tried to prevent the gathering through threats and intimidation, but did not succeed. It then banned many students from entering the campus. At noon, the students left their lunch trays on the ground without touching the food and demanded the deputy chancellor for student services be fired.

The government-controlled postal service has dramatically increased the cost of all types of services. The increases range anywhere from 40 to 1,000 percent.

Iran's Supreme Court nullified the sentence that a lower court handed to Behnam Ebrahim-Zadeh, a labor activist and defender of children's rights. Ebrahim-Zadeh was arrested in June 2010 and sentenced to 20 years in jail. He is currently being held in Evin Prison's Ward 350. The lower court must now taken into account the Supreme Court's view and decide on a new sentence.

Jahan News, the website published by hardline Ahmadinejad supporter Alireza Zakani, claims that Seyyed Hassan Khomeini, the grandson of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, will run for president in 2013. Quoting an unnamed website that Jahan claims to be close to "Mr. M." -- Mashaei -- it reports that former President Mohammad Khatami has told the younger Khomeini that if he intends to run in 2013, he must first enter the elections for the Ninth Majles, to be held in early March 2012. Jahan claims that Hassan Khomeini has said that he can get up to 30 million votes. Kayhan also reports that "Mr. H. Kh." may run in the parliamentary elections.

Another unconfirmed report states that in a meeting with the staff of IRNA, Iran's official news agency, Ahmadinejad confirmed that Khamenei had intervened in the 2009 election in order to keep him as president. According to the report, Ahmadinejad told the staff that Khamenei helped him to retain the office "because if Mousavi had been elected, he would have ended [the post of] the Supreme Leader."

Bahrain has asked the second secretary of the Iranian Embassy to leave Bahrain in the next three days. Bahrain has said that the reason for the diplomat's expulsion is his links with the Iranian spy network that Kuwait has alleged has been set up in that country. Kuwait has also expelled two Iranian diplomats and the Kuwaiti courts have convicted three people of spying for Iran and sentenced them to death. Majles deputy Mohammad Karami-Rad, a member of the parliament's National Security and Foreign Policy Commission, asked the government to retaliate and expel Bahrain's diplomats. Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast condemned the expulsion of the Iranian diplomat from Bahrain and declared that Iran reserves the right to reciprocate.

Egyptian Prime Minister Essam Sharaf, who is touring the Arab nations of the Persian Gulf, said on Tuesday that his country's possible ties with Iran will not undermine the security of oil-rich Arab states in the Persian Gulf. He told the reporters, "If we have to open a [new] page with Iran...it will not undermine the security of the Gulf states because the security of the Gulf states is important to us and Egypt's national security." Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi asked Egypt on Saturday to take a "courageous step" toward reestablishing diplomatic relations with Iran, which Tehran broke in 1980 over the Camp David Accords. Earlier this month, Egyptian Foreign Minister Nabil al-Arabi declared that his country was ready to open a "new page" with Tehran, saying, "The Egyptian and Iranian people deserve relations that reflect their history and civilization, provided they are based on mutual respect of state sovereignty and non-interference of any kind in internal affairs."

Copyright © 2011 Tehran Bureau

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