Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Iran's Stability Requires Cooperation between President Khatami, Supreme Leader Khamenei

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Iran's Stability Requires Cooperation between President Khatami, Supreme Leader Khamenei

Article excerpt

Iran's Stability Requires Cooperation Between President Khatami, Supreme Leader Khamenei

George Cave, a retired U.S. government official, was interpreter and political adviser to the Robert McFarlane mission to Tehran in May 1986. Revelation of this mission to trade arms for hostages set off the Iran-Contra scandal that cast a shadow over President Ronald Reagan's first two years in office.

Iran's critical parliamentary elections are over, the Majlis has been seated and Mehdi Kahrubi confirmed as speaker. The question is what happens next. Having lost their majority in the Majlis, the hard-liners are confronted with several problems. Attempts by the Shora-ye negaban (Council of Guardians) to nullify the election of as many reformists as possible ended when the Rahbar-i-muazam (Supreme Leader) Ali Khamenei summarily ordered the Council to announce the winners.

The post-election political situation in Tehran is certainly the most volatile since the student riots of July 1999. If there is to be stability, it can only be achieved through cooperation between President Mohammad Khatami and Khamenei. Each has his strengths. Khatami has popular support, but Khamenei controls the security forces.

Neither has ever publicly attacked the other. Khatami cooperated with Khamenei in forcibly putting down last year's student riots, and publicly condemned the riots on several occasions. For his part, Khamenei has scrupulously avoided direct criticism of the president. When Khatami has made favorable public statements regarding relations with the United States, Khamenei has publicly opposed any opening to the U.S., but has not mentioned Khatami's name.

During April 14 Friday prayers Khamenei attacked the reformists but, again, did not mention Khatami by name. This was followed two days later by a public statement put out by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Command (IRGC) in which the IRGC threatened to crush all adherents of the reformist movement.

The hard-liners have done everything possible to make life difficult for President Khatami and his reformist majority in the Majlis. On April 15, the Expediency Council ruled that the Majlis cannot investigate any institution under the command of Supreme Leader Khamenei. The institutions referred to comprise the entire security apparatus and the bonyads (foundations), which control a major portion of the economy. This ruling clearly violates Article 71 of the constitution. Khatami, moreover, has stated that the bonyads must be more transparent and accountable.

During this critical post-election period, Iran's hard-liners want to avoid any investigation similar to the one into the murders of liberal intellectuals committed by a special action group within the Ministry of Intelligence. President Khatami went public with information regarding the murders despite the objection of every other member of the National Security Council, who urged him not to publicize the findings of the investigation. This indicates that Khatami is not loath to throw his weight around when he thinks it will do some good.

The conduct of former President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani is interesting. During Friday prayers on April 28 he criticized the reformist movement as being anti-Islamic and accused it of attempting to undermine the revolution. This was an unusually blunt and partisan political statement for a man about whom the phrase mian-i-ro (middle-of-the-road) was coined.

Although rumors were rife in the capital that Rafsanjani had not finished among the top 30 vote-getters in Tehran, the Council of Guardians confirmed his election to the Majlis, stating he ranked 20th among those elected from Tehran. …

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