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Ayatollahs Feud over Ahmadinejad Support, 'Freemasons' in Cabinet

15 Jul 2011 05:00Comments

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

Ayatollah Mohammad Taghi Mesbah Yazdi and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Ayatollah Mohammad Javad Hojjati Kermani. (Homepage: Image from one of the many apparently amateur Farsi websites alleging that Ahmadinejad is in league with Freemasons and Satanists.)

5:00 a.m., 24 Tir/July 15 Our columnist Muhammad Sahimi compiled the following news items and commentary:

Ayatollah Mohammad Taghi Mesbah Yazdi, reacting to mounting criticism of his support for Mahmoud Ahmadinejad -- especially to the open letter from Ayatollah Mohammad Javad Hojjati Kermani, reported on in detail by Tehran Bureau -- denied that he had ever said that the president's inner circle might be Freemasons, or that the circle might have been infiltrated by the group's members. (In Iran, Freemasons have been historically been considered agents of Great Britain.) He added, "I still believe in Ahmadinejad and support him." The Ayadeh News website, which is close to Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani and moderate reformists, immediately responded to the denial, publishing an image of the post in which the reactionary cleric made his claim about the links between the cabinet and the Freemasons.

Azadeh Ardakani, who is close to Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei, Ahmadinejad's chief of staff and closest political confidant, was fired from her post as head curator of the National Museum. Ruhollah Ahmadzadeh, head of the Organization for Cultural Heritage and Tourism appointed Dariush Akbarzadeh as the new curator. Ardakani, reputed to be Mashaei's English tutor, was appointed to the curatorial post after she received a B.S. degree in microbiology. According to several reports, she has been arrested.

Rumors have been circulating that Vice President for Executive Affairs Hamid Baghaei has also been arrested. The rumors only became stronger when Mojtaba Samareh Hashemi, a senior Ahmadinejad adviser, was asked about them and gave a vague answer. While some new reports indicate that Baghaei has not been arrested, and in fact has been at work, there are also reports that he did not participate in the latest cabinet meeting.

Vice President for Legal Affairs Fatemeh Bodaghi said that no member of Ahmadinejad's cabinet has received any order to appear in court, let alone an arrest warrant. According to her, such orders are coordinated with the legal departments of the governmental organs.

The conservative daily Jomhouri Eslami accused Ahmadinejad of trying to provoke poor people against the political system. According to its editorial, "An administration that is in its sixth year and approaching the beginning of its seventh year [in August] is still promising the people that it will do this and that, but is well aware that the promises are not deliverable. Such promises smell like 'election' [a reference to the Majles elections next March], and this issue will raise the level of people's expectations, and particularly provoke the poorer people." As reported by Tehran Bureau, Ahmadinejad recently promised that his administration will give 1,000 square meters to every Iranian family free of charge so they can build their "dream houses."

Jahan News, the website published by hardline Majles deputy Ali Reza Zakani, former commander of the Basij university branch, reported that First Vice President Mohammad Reza Rahimi may leave the Ahmadinejad administration. According to Jahan, Rahimi has protested to the president about his lack of authority.

In a speech in Tabriz, Ahmadinejad relentlessly attacked all of the previous administrations from 1979 to 2005 and claimed that the amount of work that his government has done for Iran is "several times larger than the previous administrations [combined]." The president then thanked all of his predecessors.

Veteran diplomat Javad Mansoori, a former ambassador to China and Revolutionary Guard commander, confirmed reports that at least 40 Iranian embassies do not currently have an ambassador. Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi had denied those reports. Mansoori, who was deputy foreign minister under Ali Akbar Velayati, also revealed that since Ahmadinejad assumed the presidency in 2005, several hundred experienced diplomats and ministry staff members have been forced into retirement. He added, "The last several years represent a special era for the Foreign Ministry, meaning that it has not had its [traditional] authority, because the president has been involved [in its decision making], which has hurt [the country] on many issues. One of the problems that have hurt the ministry is that it has lost many experienced staffers. Over the past two years, 600 people have been ordered to retire, and this has definitely hurt the Foreign Ministry very badly. This has happened at the same time that no one has replaced anyone who was forced to retire.... Even those embassies that do have ambassadors are staffed by people that are weaker than average, and were appointed only because the president ordered so."

As reported by Tehran Bureau, former President Mohammad Khatami has set conditions for the reformists and supporters of the Green Movement to run in the parliamentary elections next March 2 and declared that he will advise against any participation if those conditions are not fulfilled. To counter the impact of his statement, Javan, the Guards' daily mouthpiece, claimed that Khatami said in a private meeting, "The reformists must participate in the elections under any conditions." Javan further asserted that the former president said that the reformists can take advantage of the disputes in the conservative and hardline camps, but, "Given the conditions that were created by Mousavi and Karroubi, they committed the worst treason against the reformists; otherwise, we could have entered the elections as heroes." Javan has a long track record of propagating lies about the reformists and the Green Movement.

Ayatollah Seyyed Mohammad Mousavi Khoeiniha, the influential leftist cleric, has supported the conditions set by Khatami. When asked whether he believes that the reformists should take part in next year's elections, Khoeiniha responded, "At the time in which a group of our friends are imprisoned on false charges and accusations, two true servants of the nation, Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi, are under house arrest, and the press wants to be independent and free of pressure and carry out its true mission, but cannot, is it fair to participate in the elections that are to be held under such conditions? What sin have we committed to be the target of the ugliest attacks for months and years, but still participate in the elections that are supervised by the same people that have been doing these to us and our friends?"

Markus Loening, Germany's human rights commissioner, urged Iran to release Mousavi and Karroubi. Loening said the pair are being "held without any legal basis at an unknown location with no contact to the outside world," and must be freed "along with all other political prisoners." Loening's statement came exactly five months after the two were put under house arrest.

In a meeting with representatives of the University of Shiraz, Rafsanjani, who still chairs the Expediency Discernment Council, said that holding free elections will help the country to extract itself from "the present conditions." He added, "Under the present conditions, the people, particularly the youth, university students, and other strata of the society, should be allowed to express their opinion, bring up their questions, and receive rational answers by the officials. Because if such questions are not given reasonable answers by us [the officials], the answers will be provided by sources that may be perverted." Regarding his relationship with Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Rafsanjani described it as "very good," but added, "This does not mean that we do not differ on any issue. But, I have always tried, to the best of my abilities, to solve the problems through discussions and consultations with the officials, and do increase the tension in the current conditions."

The Central Bank has issued a statement announcing that the cabinet has agreed to eliminate four zeros from the national currency -- for example, one U.S. dollar will trade for about 0.12 tomans, Iran's currency, instead of 1,200 tomans at the current rate. It also announced that it has set up a website to provide information and offer a venue for discussion of the plan. Economist Davood Danesh Jafari, Ahmadinejad's former first vice president, said that eliminating zeroes from the national currency will not solve any problems.

Young actress Pegah Ahangari was arrested on Sunday, and after four days there is still no news of her whereabouts. She has been allowed to make a brief telephone call to her mother, but told her that she does not know where she is. She was supposed to travel to Germany and analyze the women's soccer World Cup. Ahangari was active in Mousavi's presidential campaign in 2009. Human rights sources report that she was arrested by the police, but the authority for her detention and interrogation was transferred to the Guards' intelligence unit. As reported by Tehran Bureau, Maryam Majd, a sports photographer who was also supposed to go to Germany for the World Cup, has been arrested as well and is reportedly in poor health.

Several reports indicate that many Kurdish areas in Iran have gone on general strike on the 22d anniversary of the assassination in Vienna of Dr. Abdolrahman Ghasemlou, secretary-general of the Kurdistan Democratic Party. There is apparently a heavy presence of security forces in those areas. Ghasemlou traveled to Vienna to negotiate with the representatives of the Iranian government, when he was gunned down. No one was ever arrested.

Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, whose death sentence by stoning was suspended after a worldwide protest, has been granted a furlough to attend her mother's funeral and memorial service. Ashtiani was convicted of participating in the murder of her husband and adultery. The furlough suggests that her death sentence, by stoning or other means, will not be carried out.

Dr. Omid Kokabi, a physics postdoctoral student and expert on laser physics at the University of Texas in Austin traveled to Iran in February to visit his family. He was arrested on arrival. Reports indicate that he has been under tremendous pressure to speak against himself -- i.e., "confess" -- as well as t denouce his professors and mentors, and he has been transferred to Evin Prison's notorious Ward 209 for that purpose. Kokabi, a Sunni Muslim and Turkmen, is a totally apolitical student, and it is still not clear why he was arrested. In a moving letter to Sadegh Larijani, the judiciary chief, Kokabi spoke about the pressure on him, saying in part, "I still do not know why I have been arrested, and why the views of my interrogators are being imposed on me. What I do know is that my age and my track record indicate that I have never been a political person, and neither me nor my family have no political track record, let alone security instincts.... I ask you as the head of the judiciary to make it possible for me to defend myself in court." His attorney, Saeed Khalili, said that he has not been allowed to visit Kokabi and asked, "How can I defend my client, if I cannot meet with him?" Kokabi's trial is set to begin on Saturday.

Ten Baha'is in Isfahan, in central Iran, and one in Birjand, in the southeast, have been arrested. The Baha'i religious minority is not recognized by Islam, although the late Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri issued a fatwa a year before his death in 2009 in which he declared that the Baha'is are entitled to full rights, like any other Iranian citizens.

On Tuesday, Hassan Danaeifar, Iran's ambassador to Iraq, was attacked and beaten at a Green Zone checkpoint in Baghdad. He was attacked and beaten at a checkpoint while passing through central Baghdad, with his face injured. Apparently, as he was passing through the checkpoint, the gate suddenly closed. Danaeifar's bodyguards began protesting to the security guards that resulted in a quarrel erupting afterward. Despite suffering a facial injury, Danaeifar described his general condition and that of his bodyguards as "good."

In a joint press conference on Wednesday at the State Department with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov described his country's proposal to address the dispute over Iran's nuclear program. Arshad Mohammed from Reuters asked Lavrov, "Yesterday [July 12] at the Russian Embassy you described an approach toward Iran on the nuclear issue, one of what you called a step-by-step process whereby the Iranians might take steps to address some of the IAEA's concerns, and the P5+1 [the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council plus Germany] in return would take steps to ease the pressure of sanctions.... Can you give us detail on the kinds of steps you would like to see the Iranians take under such an approach? And Secretary Clinton, can you address the possibility of easing sanctions early in the process? Historically, I think the administration has been reluctant to do that, because of the feeling that to do so would be to give up your leverage at the start of a negotiation." Lavrov responded,

This is yet another example of the fact that there are problems in our agenda. We have the same final aims; this aim is to avoid proliferation of nuclear arms, but, at the same time, we do have some individual approaches concerning the way we move to this goal. And we have some coinciding points here; we have a collective document of 5+1 or 3+3 -- whatever you call it -- which is supported by the Russian Federation, which contains the proposal of the six to Iran about how to settle all the issues that will allow all of us to see that the character of their nuclear program is absolutely civilian, and restore their rights to this activity. This document has been given to the Iranian side about two years ago as far as I remember, and it specifies everything that has to be done by the Iranian side. It is available for studying; there is nothing sensational about it.

Because everything Iran has to do is based on the requirements of the IAEA, and everything is well known, and these requirements were supposed by the Security Council of the U.N. When we of Russia say about the necessity to follow a phased and mutual process, we do not doubt this mutual position of the 3+3 group; we propose, on each requirement of the IAEA, to create some kind of a roadmap, starting from the easiest questions and in the end there will be the most difficult ones that would require time. And we are sure that the response to each specific step of Iran would be followed by some reciprocal step, like freezing some sanctions and shortening the volume of sanctions. And we have formulated our proposals. It has been handed over to American and Chinese partners in the framework of 5+1. Today, we discussed this, and we said that the experts will inquire into these things and make a decision.

Clinton said, "Well, I think as the minister said, we both share the same goal and we have worked together with others to achieve that goal of preventing Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons. And we will be sending a team of our experts to consult with Russian experts to discuss ways that we can move forward. I have told Minister Lavrov that we are concerned by the failure of the responses thus far, from Iran to [European Union] High Representative Ashton, and the resistance of Iran to IAEA requests for further access regarding military-related activities. But nevertheless, we are committed to our dual track of both pressure and engagement, and we want to explore with the Russians ways that we can perhaps pursue more effective engagement strategies."

On Tuesday, in a joint press conference with his Austrian counterpart, Michael Spindelegger, Foreign Minister Salehi said that Iran did not claim to have a flawless human rights record. According to Spindelegger, "We have concerns about the climate in general and some specific practices. I spoke in particular about the arrest of two women [who are] human rights activists." Spindelegger also said that he inquired about the American hikers who are scheduled to appear in court later this month. Salehi declared that Iran is determined to improve its human rights situation: "There is no country in the world [that] can claim that it has a flawless record in the field of human rights. We do not claim that everything is fully [good] in our country. We are determined to ensure the protection of human rights, basic rights."

An Airbus A310 passenger airliner, operated by Mahan Air of Iran, has been impounded in Britain at the Birmingham Airport. It is not yet clear where the action was taken as a result of the sanctions imposed on Iran. The U.S. Bureau of Industry and Security recently claimed jurisdiction over one of Mahan Air's A310 due to the U.S.-made components installed in the aircraft. The BIS has now added Paris-based Zarand Aviation to the sanctions list based on a lease of an A310 by Zarand to Mahan. The A310 in Birmingham is now grounded for the foreseeable future. However, there are reports indicating that the Airbus was impounded because Mahan Air has not yet paid what it owes for three used Boeing 747s that it recently purchased. Mahan Air is reputed to be in the hands of Rafsanjani's family.

Copyright © 2011 Tehran Bureau

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