The Nuclear Issue Isn’t the Real Iranian Challenge

Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei speaks live on television after casting his ballot in the 2009 Iranian presidential election in Tehran

Various cultures have different phrases for expressing the idea of having it both ways at once. “To take a swim and not get wet” is an Albanian proverb. Poles talk about “having the cookie and eating it.” Iranians want “both God and the sugar dates.”

The Trump administration has been weighing a contemporary geopolitical version of this straddle. Hard-liners have been urging the president to decertify the Iran nuclear agreement but insist that he wants to strengthen the deal, not break it. The idea is enticing politically, certainly, but it has as much chance of working as (forgive me) “washing your fur but not getting wet,” as a German aphorism puts it.

Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), a leading critic of the Iran deal, described this ambiguous diplomatic approach this week at the Council on Foreign Relations. “I don’t propose leaving the deal yet. I propose taking the steps necessary to obtain leverage to get a better deal.” Cotton wants decertification, but no sanctions, so that the United States can . . . what? Apparently, the idea is that US pressure will convince Iran to make unilateral concessions that it refused during the 13 years the deal was being negotiated.

Magical thinking is always appealing in foreign policy, but it usually produces nothing more than fairy dust. In this case, there is no evidence that putting the agreement in limbo will bring any security benefits for the United States or Israel. It will introduce uncertainty where the United States and its allies should most demand clarity — in insisting on compliance by all sides with an agreement that caps Iran’s centrifuges and stockpiles of enriched material for at least another decade.

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, hardly a dove on Iran, bluntly told the Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday that the nuclear deal was “something that the president should consider staying with.” When pressed by Sen. Angus King (I-Maine) on whether he thought the pact was in the United States’ national-security interest, Mattis paused and answered: “Yes, Senator, I do.”

Officials speak truth to power at their own risk in President Trump’s Washington. So Mattis’s argument for sustaining what the president has called “one of the dumbest [and] most dangerous” deals was important, though the outcome of the debate still isn’t clear. It’s probably because of Mattis’s military advice, however, that Trump has dropped his campaign talk of simply tearing up the agreement.

How would Iran react? Seyed Hossein Mousavian, a former Iranian official who stays in close touch with his ex-colleagues, told me recently that if Trump doesn’t certify, but Congress doesn’t re-impose sanctions, and the other P5+1 negotiators assure full implementation, then Iran may continue to adhere to the agreement. But he cautioned that this line is opposed by some political factions in Iran that argue for suspending the pact if Trump challenges Iranian compliance.

As for the administration’s hope of forcing Iran to renegotiate the “sunset” provisions and other details of the agreement, Mousavian says that’s a nonstarter in Tehran.

The real challenge with Iran isn’t the nuclear issue, which was put in a box for at least a decade by the agreement, but Tehran’s aggressive behavior in the region. Iran and its proxies continue to destabilize the Middle East. They seek to manipulate and control nearly every major capital: Beirut, Damascus, Baghdad, Saana. According to the White House, Iranian proxies are mining the Bab el-Mandeb Strait, pointing missiles from Yemen toward Riyadh and Abu Dhabi, and seeking to carve a zone of influence on the ruins of ISIS in Syria and Iraq.

The administration claims to be focused on this big Iran problem. Would that it were so. Officials say that Trump has signed off on a broad strategy that makes Iran’s behavior the central issue going forward. But the decertification debate will probably dominate the headlines over the next weeks and months — needlessly focusing attention on the one part of the Iran problem that is capped and manageable, and defusing efforts on the real challenge.

There’s a final, crucial reason Trump should certify that Iran is complying with the nuclear deal: because it’s true. Even Cotton conceded as much this week, arguing against certification “not primarily on the grounds related to Iran’s technical compliance, but rather based on the long catalogue of the regime’s crimes and perfidy against the United States.”

A question for the Iran hawks: If the United States refuses to certify an agreement when a country is “technically” in compliance, why would any other country ever make a deal with us again? A great country keeps its word.

(The Washington Post)

Reform in Iran: Wetsminster Style or Imamate?


London- It was almost five years ago when Iran’s “Supreme Guide” Ayatollah Ali Khamenei launched the idea of constitutional reform to transform the Islamic Republic’s presidential system into a parliamentary one. The idea was to end election of the President of the Republic through universal suffrage and give the Islamic Majlis (parliament) the right to select a Prime Minister to head the executive branch of government.

Khamenei launched the idea in the wake of a public quarrel with then President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad who had wanted to replace the Minister of Security and Information but had been ordered not to do so by the “Supreme Guide”.

Ahmadinejad’s argument was that since the president is directly elected by the people, he should also have the right to choose his Cabinet colleagues. Khamenei’s counter argument was that under the Islamic Constitution, then “Supreme Guide” had the final say on all matters and could even suspend the application of basic rules of Islam.

Ahmadinejad reacted by 11 days of sulking during which he went on strike from his duties as President. In the end, however, he had to eat humble pie, and submit to Khamenei’s order.

Sources said the open quarrel led to Khamenei ordering small group of constitutional experts to prepare a report on adopting a parliamentary system. According to the sources, the report, which has not been made public, appears to have recommended three options to the” Supreme Guide”.

The first option is to keep the title of President but have the person who will occupy the post be nominated by the “Supreme Guide” and approved by the Islamic Majlis. Keeping the word “President” is deemed important to maintain the claim that Iran will remain a republic.

The second option, for a while favored by late President Hashemi Rafsanjani, would be a merger of the position of the President with that of the “Supreme Guide” with the person occupying the post selected by a Congress consisting of both the Islamic Majlis and the Assembly of Experts. Such a system would end the apparent contradiction between an elected political executive and a non-elected religious authority.

The third option is to have the head of the executive branch directly appointed and, when needed, replaced, by the “Supreme Guide” who could assume the title of Imam. In such a system, the heads of executive would be an administrator, not a policymaker, carrying out policies determined by the “Imam.”

“The Islamic Republic created by the late Ayatollah Ruhallah Khomeini was full of contradictions from the start,” says historian Parviz Nuri. “It wanted to appear democratic so as to seduce the Westernized middle classes. But it also wanted to establish absolute rule by the Shi’ite clergy.”

Initially, the Khomeinist system included both a President, directly elected by the people, and a prime minister named by that President and approved by the Islamic Majlis. But that was a source of tension right from the start as Abol-Hassan Banisadr, the Islamic Republic’s first president who remained in office for just over a year, was in constant dispute with Prime Minister Muhammad-Ali Rajai.

Banisadr was dismissed by Khomeini, then acting as “Supreme Guide”. But the quarrel between President and Prime Minister continue. For eight years Ali Khamenei, the present “Supreme Guide”, who acted as president was in constant dispute with Prime Minster Mir-Hussein Mussawi-Khameneh. In the end Khamenei formed an alliance with then Majlis Speaker Hashemi Rafsanjani and pushed through a constitutional amendment that abolished the post of prime minister altogether.

Thus, the trend has been towards a gradual concentration of executive power in the hands of the “Supreme Guide”.
But why has the debate been re-launched now, just weeks after President Hassan Rouhani’s re-election for a second and final four years term?

One reason may be the growing concern over the consequences of Khamenei’s departure from the scene and the difficulty of choosing a successor who could pretend to the status he has gained over the past 30 years. A weak “Supreme Guide”, named by a club of second rate mullahs known as the Assembly of Experts, would wield little authority against a President elected by popular vote.

Such a president would wield immense powers that, given certain conditions, could be used to reduce the role of Shi’ite clerics in the nation’s politics. An even bigger risk is that the Iranian electorate, increasingly secular in mood and persuasion, may go for candidates who offer a policy of de-emphasizing, if not actually abandoning, the religious character of the system.

Having the head of executive named by the parliament could also lead to instability as majorities form and disintegrate within the Majlis.

“Islamic Majlis” member Abdul-Reza Hashem Zai says what matters is who controls the majority in the parliament at any given time. “It is also crucial to see which tendencies are behind the idea of a parliamentary system,” he says.

Another Majlis member Ezzat-Allah Yussefian insists that whatever change is to be introduced must reflect “the wishes of the Supreme Guide”.

Writing in the newspaper Etemad, a pro-Rouhani, daily, columnist Ali-Akbar Gorji, rejects the idea of a parliamentary system on the grounds that Iran does not have regular political parties that could ensure parliamentary discipline through stable majorities or coalitions. “Right now we should focus our attention on allowing the formation of political parties,” he insists.

Sadeq Ziba-Kalam, a prominent intellectual and supporter of Rouhani, goes further by asserting that introducing a parliamentary system in Iran at this time could be “a setback for democracy”. The reason is that hardline factions control the institutions, including the “Islamic Majlis,” leaving the direct election of a president as the only opportunity for ordinary citizens to express their wishes.

Ziba-Kalam speculates that in a parliamentary system Rouhani would not be chosen as President by the current “Islamic Majlis;” the post will go to Hojat al-Islam Radii’s, his more radical rival in the least presidential election.

However, the option of imamate may be more suitable for the Islamic Republic. In Jaafari theology, people should recognize no authority as legitimate unless it comes from the “Imam” who is “Massoum” (infallible). This was why late Ayatollah Khomeini adopted the title of “Imam” to put his authority above worldly, political and secular, consideration. In recent times a campaign has been launched to give Khamenei the same title of “Imam”. This was highly publicized when the head of the Syrian regime, Bashar al-Assad, wrote Khamenei a letter calling him “Grand Ayatollah and Imam” at the same time.

In Jaafari theology, the concept of ”infallibility” (‘ismah) is reserved for Ali, Faitmah and their 11 male descendants. However, a new campaign now aims at extending the concept to also cover Khamenei.

In a speech in Qom earlier this month Ayatollah Ali Ansarian said the concept of “Islam” also applied to all the 124,000 prophets plus many other “muqarrabin” (those close to God) and should apply to Khamenei as well.

“Introducing a full Imamate in Iran would fully reflect the true nature of the system founded by Ayatollah Khomeini,” says religious historian Nuri. “It would also resolve the inner contradictions of a system torn between imitating modern Western political practice and nostalgia for an imagery Islamic system under the Imams.”

A system of imamate existed in Yemen under Zaidi Imams for centuries. In Batinah, inner Oman, the Ibadhis also had an imamate with the last Imam, Ghalib bin-Ali al-Hanai, who died in 2009.

Khamenei seems anxious to introduce as yet unclear constitutional reforms as part of his legacy. For him, and for Iran, the clock is ticking.

Khamenei Orders New Supervisory Body to Curtail Government

London- In a move designed to further curtail President Hassan Rouhani’s scope for policy-making, the “Supreme Guide” Ali Khamenei has ordered the creation of a new supervisory body to “hold all branches of government to account in the implementation of their policies.”

Khamenei unveiled his plan at a special meeting Thursday in Tehran of the Assembly of Experts, a 92-member outfit initially formed to surprise the performance of the “Supreme Guide” himself. However, in a lengthy speech Khamenei made no mention of that task which is enshrined in the very Constitution of the Iranian Republic.

Instead, he said the Assembly must “assume grand supervisory mission designed to ensure the direction and progress of the Islamic revolution.”

“The three branches of government are in charge of administering the country in a revolutionary manner,” Khamenei said. “But the Assembly of Experts must supervise the branches to make sure they move in the direction set by the revolution, and to hold to account when there is a lacunae.”

Split between a vision of Iran as a vehicle for Khomeinist revolution on the one hand and an ordinary nation-state on the other, the Iranian Republic has faced deep contradictions from the very beginning. For radical elements the risk in seeing Iran normalize itself and start behaving like a nation-state is almost as great as that of “foreign plots for regime change.”

The current Constitution is already designed to limit the powers of the official government represented by a President and a Council of Ministers. This is done through three existing organs.

The first such organ is the Council of the Ascertainment of the Interests of the System (Majlis Tashkhis Maslehat al-Nizam). This Majlis is supposed to arbitrate disagreements between the President and his Cabinet on the one hand and the Islamic Majlis, Iran’s ersatz parliament, on the other.

Worse still, as far as the official government is concerned, in 2015 Khamenei extended the powers of the Majlis al-Maslehat by ordering it to work out 20-year plans for all key aspects of national policy. In other words, whoever forms the government at any given time would not have to freedom to work out any policy unless it fully conforms with the plans already fixed.

Since all members of the Majlis al-Maslehat are appointed by the “Supreme Guide” it is safe to assume that it is ultimately his view that would prevail.

The second control organ is Guardians of the Constitution which could veto any government decision even if approved by the Parliament.

Again, Khamenei’s control over the Guardians Council is almost total. He directly appoints six of the 12 members but would also have to approve the six others named by the Parliament.

The new organ decreed by Khamenei is to be composed of “a team of thinkers”.

It is not clear whether the “thinkers” in question will be members of the Assembly of Experts or recruited from other fields. But since the nominees would have to be approved by Khamenei, it is clear that the new proposed organ will add a third layer to the control already exercised by the “Supreme Guide.”

Even then, the “Supreme Guide” is not satisfied with formal control over the official government which he clearly does not fully trust. His fear is that the President and his Council of Ministers, although appointed with the approval of the “Supreme Guide”, may be tempted to sacrifice the interests of the evolution in order to protect the interests of the nation-state.

This is why some “sensitive areas” are kept outside the remit of the President and the Council of Ministers from the start. For example, Iran’s regional policy is directly controlled by the office of the “Supreme Guide” known as “Beit rahbar” (Leader’s Household) with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ task limited to protocol and ceremonial occasions. All of Iran’s ambassadors to Arab countries, for example, are chosen by the Quds Corps, the organ charged with the task of “exporting the revolution” and directly accountable to the “Supreme Guide.”

The Iran policy adopted by former US President Barack Obama was partly responsible for Khamenei’s decision to reduce the power of the official government and increase that of revolutionary organs under his control. Obama publicly spoke of “supporting moderate elements” in what he thought would be a “change of direction in Iran.”

With US policy apparently now moving in the direction opposite to that set by Obama, Khamenei is anxious to consolidate the position of his revolutionary organs before another US administration is tempted by a new version of Obama’s love-affairs with “Tehran moderates.”

Two events dramatically illustrated Khamenei’s decision to clip the wings of Rouhani’s “moderate” administration.

The first was Khamenei’s four-hour long tete-a-tete with Russian President Vladimir Putin from which Rouhani was excluded. Since then, Iran’s Russia policy, dubbed by Khamenei as “Looking to the East” is handled by the office of the “Supreme Guide” with such emissaries as Quds Corps Commander General Qassem Soleimani and Khamenei adviser Ali-Akbar Velayati running errands to Moscow instead of the official Foreign Minister Javad Zarif.

The second event was the historic visit to Ankara by the newly appointed Chief of Staff General Muhammad Baqeri establishing direct contact between the military of the Iranian Republic and that of a North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). Once again, the official government played no role in the dramatic event. Since then, General Baqeri has also established direct contact with the top brass of the Pakistan Armed Forces, once again by-passing the Cabinet nominally headed by Rouhani.

The decision to test a new ballistic missile, named Khorramshahr, jut 48 hours after Rouhani’s return from New York, was equally noteworthy. In his speech at the United Nations General Assembly, Rouhani had sounded moderate and conciliatory and ready to comply with Iran’s obligations under UN resolutions, the most recent one of which forbids such missile tests. Khorramshahr was designed to tell the world that what matters is not what Iran promises as a country but what Iran does as a revolution.

Khamenei’s message is clear: Iran must be in the service of its Revolution, not the other way round.

Khamenei Tightens His Grip on ‘Expediency Council’

London- Iran’s Spiritual leader Ali Khamenei appointed on Monday Ayatollah Mahmoud Hashemi Shahroudi as the new chairman of Iran’s Expediency Council, a move that means the leader has once again tightened his grip on Iranian decision-making.

Khamenei’s decision brought to an end seven months of anticipation that followed the death of leader Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani who headed the council for 27 years.

The Expediency Council serves as an advisory body for the Supreme Leader and mediates on legislative differences between the Parliament and the oversight Guardian Council.

The Council’s chairman is directly appointed by the country’s supreme leader every five years.

On Monday, Khamenei also appointed the new lineup of the 44-member Expediency Council, including 38 political figures. The list included for the first time conservative presidential candidates, Ebrahim Raisi and Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf in addition to Mohammad Sadr, an adviser to Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and Iran’s armed forces chief of staff Major General Mohammad Baqeri.

In a surprising move, the Supreme Leader renewed the membership of former Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad contrary to estimates that he would be placed outside the council, particularly after an Iranian election committee had rejected the former president from running in last May’s presidential elections.

Khamenei also reinstated Mohsen Rezaei as the secretary of the Expediency Council, whose last term has ended in March when it was headed by acting chairman Ayatollah Movahedi Kermani.

On Monday, the new lineup was welcomed by conservatives, but saw some reservations in the ranks of parties that backed the presidency of President Hassan Rouhani, especially the reformists.

In his decree issued Monday, Khamenei urged the new chairman to help reform the general policies of the system.

He also called for organizing the procedure for monitoring the implementation of policies and creating a mechanism for evaluating their effectiveness, a statement issued by his office said.

Rouhani Proposes Shamkhani for Prime Minister

Supreme National Security Council Ali Shamkhani

London – Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has proposed secretary of the Supreme National Security Council Ali Shamkhani for the position of minister of interior, according to knowledgeable sources.

Iranian government spokesperson Mohammad Nobakht stated that the formation is in its last stages, while ILNA news agency reported that Rouhani could change half his current government and only nine will keep their positions including that of foreign affairs, intelligence and petroleum.

Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei is expected to sign Rouhani’s presidential decree for the second term and he will be sworn in before the parliament next Saturday, amid unprecedented security measures in Tehran.

Sources close to the matter told Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper that Rouhani is discussing with Shamkhani the position of an interior minister. Shamkhani was a former defense minister during the presidency of reformist President Mohammed Khatami.

Choosing Shamkhani for the ministry will be welcomed by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and would convince the Speaker Ali Larijani to drop his candidate.

Mehr news agency reported current Minister of Interior Rahmani Fazli saying that Rouhani had discussed with him the government’s formation. He didn’t, however, reveal whether he asked him to remain in position or not.

ILNA news agency reported that current vice president for executive affairs Mohammad Shariatmadari is the president’s candidate for the position of minister of industries and mines.

Office of Iran’s Supreme Leader issued a statement last Friday saying that the president is consulting the Supreme Leader about several names suggested for the ministries of security, defense, and foreign affairs without referring to the ministry of interior affairs.

Secretary of the Supreme National Security is considered one of the top official positions named by the Supreme Leader. Former Iranian reports suggested the transfer of current minister of defense Hossein Dehghan to the Supreme National Security Council.

Meanwhile, ILNA published a report saying that Rouhani agreed with Iranian Deputy Defense Minister Brigadier General Amir Hatami that he will be named as defense minister instead of Dehghan, whereas Minister of Intelligence Mahmoud Alawi will remain in his position.

Rouhani will most likely assign the current minister of information and communications technology Mahmoud Vaezi as his chief of staff, with reports saying that Vaezi will step down from office and assign one of his deputies instead.

ILNA also stated that the current ministers of justice and culture will be changed, with only nine ministers remaining in their positions including foreign affairs, intelligence, petroleum, and health.

Reformist MP Elias Hazrati stated earlier this week that the President will most likely announce the new government after his swearing-in ceremony.

Iranian government spokesperson Mohammad Nobakht said that the president has heard different opinions about the cabinet and he himself will make the final decision, adding that the president is committed to the demands of the people and invites the best and most appropriate figures.

Nobakht continued, “Instead of responding to the demands of certain political currents, Rouhani considers himself responsive to the demands of the people, while not forgetting and respecting the efforts and services of the political currents.”

Khamenei Back to Politicizing Hajj

Leader of the Islamic Revolution Ali Khamenei speaks with officials in charge of the annual Hajj pilgrimage in Tehran on July 30, 2017.

London- With the beginning of the pilgrimage season and in a sign of Tehran’s escalation approach, Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei reaffirmed his country’s previous policies and called on using the Hajj rituals to take a stance against the United States’ presence in the region.

Khamenei’s calls came amid tensed US-Iranian relations after Washington introduced a new US bill last week that included sanctions against Iran and the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) for supporting terrorism.

The bill also threatens the 2015 Iran nuclear accord.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani last week criticized the new US bill to impose sanctions on his country and pledged to take a decisive response.

On Sunday, Khamenei said that “Hajj is the best venue” where Muslim nations could raise the issue of the US meddling and mischievous presence in the Islamic countries and the region, in addition to Washington’s creation of Takfiri terrorist groups.

Khamenei said pilgrims should focus this year on the issue of unity, urging Muslims to use Hajj rituals in order to take a united stance against Israeli efforts to control al-Aqsa Mosque.

“Where can the Islamic Umah find a better venue than Hajj to comment on the Al-Aqsa Mosque?” Khamenei said.

Addressing a group of officials in charge of the annual Hajj in Tehran, Khamenei did not comment on the previous Saudi calls that Iran stops politicizing Hajj.

However, the Iranian leader did say that the safety of pilgrims is a Saudi responsibility.

Head of Iran’s Hajj and Pilgrimage Organization Hamid Mohammadi said on Sunday that the Supreme National Security Council of Iran approved to send Iranian pilgrims to the Hajj following talks held between Iran and Saudi Arabia.

Last year, Iranians did not participate in the Hajj after tensions between Riyadh and Tehran following a deadly crush of people during the 2015 pilgrimage.

Ballistic Attack Heightens Tension between Rouhani Administration, IRGC


London- The debate between the Iranian government and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) continues on the decision to launch ballistic missiles at Deir al Zour, Syria, on Thursday as Deputy Commander of al-Quds force Ismail Qaiana affirmed that the decision was taken by Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Qaiana commented on the statements of the government and the IRGC on the party responsible for taking the decision of the attack conducted by IRGC on Sunday via launching six ground-to-ground ballistic missiles from Kurdistan and Kermanshah.

Iran said, “The six missiles were launched as a response to two attacks that ISIS claimed responsibility on the parliament headquarters and Khomeini mausoleum on June 7.”

In this regard, the IRGC explained in a statement issued on Wednesday details of the attack at Deir al Zour and the number of ISIS losses, hours after statements made by Iranian President Hassan Rouhani where he hinted on Khamenei and IRGC when he said that decision wasn’t taken by a single person or special party.

Rouhani added that the attack’s decision was taken by the Supreme National Security Council that has granted the armed forces powers wider that launching missiles after the two attacks on Tehran. He continued that the foreign policy towards regional and international topics did not change.

Statements of the Iranian president indicated that tension between him and the IRGC is still ongoing, knowing that this military body criticized him severely during his electoral campaigns last month.

In the same context, Iran’s Parliamentary Speaker Ali Larijani and his brother Judiciary Chief Ayatollah Sadeq Larijani issued detailed statements hailing the role of IRGC. Parliament speaker said that the attack on ISIS was a message to the US and Israel.

Khamenei Defends Execution of Thousands of Prisoners in Summer of 1988

London- Iran’s supreme leader Ali Khamenei defended on Sunday the executions conducted in Iran in the 1980s and indirectly criticized the statements of newly elected President Hassan Rouhani.

Speaking at a gathering of senior officials in Tehran to mark the 28th anniversary of the death of revolutionary leader Ruhollah Khomeini, Khamenei said: “We should not mix between the martyr and the oppressor during those events.”

Khamenei reiterated his warnings from any attempts to distort Khomeini’s image and the ideas of the revolution.

“Most of you know that there are motivations for distorting the personality of the Imam and distorting the revolution,” he said.

The supreme leader also rejected in his traditional speech the previous comments delivered by Rouhani, without naming him.

During his presidential campaign last month, the newly-elected president had criticized the executions of thousands of Iranians in the 1980s.

Rouhani had lashed out at one of his main opponents, Ebrahim Raisi, for playing a role when political prisoners were executed during a period of a few months in the summer of 1988.

But, on Sunday, Khamenei defended those events and said: “This phase was important in determining the fate of Iran and the Iranians.”

Khamenei went on to note that the Iranians could receive a slap in case they lose the path of Khomeini.

A few days ago, the son of Hossein Montazeri, Ahmad, urged Rouhani to drop Justice Minister Mostafa Pour-Mohammadi from his cabinet for the major role he played in the 1988 massacre of thousands of political prisoners.

Last summer, Ahmad Montazeri had released an audiotape in which his father can be heard telling a meeting of the members of the “Death Committee” that they are carrying out a crime against humanity.

Pour-Mohammadi was a member of the “Death Committee”, deciding on the fate of those political prisoners.

Iranians Re-Elect a Fake Reformer in a Fake Election

Iranians Re-Elect a Fake Reformer in a Fake Election

Rouhani was the lesser of two evils, but Westerners vastly overestimate what an Iranian president can do. In the days before President Hassan Rouhani’s re-election victory in Iran this weekend, a video of one of his old speeches circulated on social media. Speaking at Iran’s parliament, Rouhani says dissidents against the new regime should be publicly hanged during Friday prayers as a message.

Rouhani was a younger man in this speech, in his early 40s. The revolution was also young. And many Iranian leaders of that era have taken the journey from revolution to reform. The reason Rouhani’s speech though is so relevant to Iran today is because, in public at least, the president of Iran has changed his tune.

During his campaign, he told voters that he would be a “lawyer” defending their rights. He criticized his main rival, Ebrahim Raisi, for his role in ordering the executions of political dissidents. He promised gender equality and a freer press.

All of that sounds pretty good. And for those in the west looking for an Iranian version of Mikhail Gorbachev, it makes a nice talking point. Unfortunately, there is no reason to believe Rouhani will deliver, or even try to deliver, on any of these promises.

There are a few reasons for this. To start, Rouhani delivered the same line back in 2013 when he first won the presidency. We now know that human rights in Iran have further eroded during his tenure. A lot of this has been documented by the Center for Human Rights in Iran. The organization noted in October that Rouhani supported a law that would essentially place all Iranian media under government control. The center also documented a wave of arrests of journalists in November 2015, following Iran’s agreement to the nuclear bargain with the US and five other world powers. In the run-up to Friday’s vote, 29 members of the European Parliament wrote an open letter urging Iran to end its arrests, intimidation and harassment of journalists in the election season.

Sadegh Zibakalam, an activist and professor of political science at Tehran University, summed this up well in November: “Rouhani did not have the power to free political prisoners or end the house arrests, but he didn’t even pretend that he wanted to do something.”

In fairness to Rouhani, much of this is beyond his control. As anyone who pays attention to Iran knows, the real power in the country resides with the unelected supreme leader, Ali Khamenei, and the security services, which operate more like rival mafias these days, controlling many of Iran’s industries and businesses. This means in practice that Rouhani can inveigh against crackdowns and house arrests of the democratic opposition (which he mainly does during elections), but ultimately it’s not his call.

Rouhani also doesn’t have much of a say on Iran’s foreign policy. Despite the completion of the nuclear deal and a US president desperate to restore diplomatic ties, Iran escalated its predations in the Middle East in the final years of Barack Obama’s presidency. Iranian officers were helping to direct the ground campaign against Aleppo, Syria, this fall, when rebels finally lost control of a city the dictator had starved.

Obama administration alumni will say that Rouhani’s election in 2013 was an important precondition for getting a nuclear deal. This, too, overstates the importance of Iran’s president. It’s true that secret negotiations picked up after Rouhani won in 2013. But there would be no nuclear deal without the blessing of the supreme leader. What’s more, at the time the Obama administration said they were able to get the Iranians to negotiate because the US led an international effort to impose crippling sanctions on the state’s banking system and oil industry.

All of this should inform how we in the West understand what just happened in Iran. It’s true that turnout for the vote was high. It’s also true that genuine reformers and dissidents urged their followers to vote for Rouhani. But this masks a deeper point: Iranian elections have the legitimacy of votes for a high school’s student government association. Many students may vote from a narrow set of options, but the students they elect must yield to those who wield real power, the teachers and the school’s administrators.

And yet reading the Western press, you’d think Iran was like any other free country. Rouhani won in a “landslide,” many headlines blared. It is widely interpreted as a rebuke of hardliners. I look forward to a BBC analysis of Rouhani’s get-out-the-vote effort in Isfahan.

Western journalists and analysts are hardly alone. Obama, too, suffered from the delusion that Iranian politics were contested between reformers and hardliners. In his 2015 message to Iranians for the Nowruz holiday, Obama said, “My message to you, the people of Iran, is that together we have to speak up for the future that we seek.”

Iranians did speak up for their future in 2009. That was during another election. The hardliner Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was challenged by the Green Movement that campaigned on expanding rights for the people and ending confrontation with the West. But Ahmadinejad stole that election, and the state arrested thousands of citizens who had the temerity to take their grievances to the street. The leaders of that movement remain under house arrest, despite Rouhani’s promise in 2013 to free them.

And this gets to why it’s so dangerous for free nations pretend that there is real political competition in Iran. If you accept that premise, it leads to fuzzy policies aimed at strengthening reformers and moderates, while chalking up Iran’s arrests of dual nationals or its provocations of US ships to the infighting of Iran’s hardliners.

It’s understandable that Iranians forced to live under the thumb of the mullahs voted for the least-worst option. But Westerners should never lose sight of a better Iran, where politicians can actually deliver on popular promises to free dissidents and support equal rights for women. Congratulating Iran for its fake elections only legitimizes a system where real elections are not possible.


Khamenei Does Not Congratulate Rouhani on His Second Term

Supporter of Iranian president Hassan Rouhani holds his poster as she celebrates his victory in the presidential election, in Tehran

London- President Hassan Rouhani pledged, during a televised speech delivered on Saturday evening, to deliver on his promises by expanding internal freedoms and opening Iran to the world.

“Our nation’s message in the election was clear: Iran’s nation chose the path of interaction with the world, away from violence and extremism,” Rouhani said after the announcement of his victory in the presidential race for a second term, referring to the “revolutionary” slogans of his main challenger, hardliner Ebrahim Raisi, a protégé of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei.

Rouhani won Friday’s election with more than 57 percent of the votes, which equal 23.5 million, against Raisi, who received 38 percent and two other candidates: Mostafa Hashemitaba and Mostafa Mirsalim.

On Saturday, Rouhani said that Iranians said ‘No’ to those who wanted to take Iran back to the past.

However, the President said: “The election is now over. I am the president of the nation and I need assistance from every single Iranian, even those who oppose me and my policies.”

Following the announcement of the results, Khamenei issued a statement praising Iranians for their big turnout in the election and called for the improvement of the country’s economic situation. However, Khamenei did not congratulate Rouhani on his victory, unlike in the 2013 election.

Raisi also has not congratulated Rouhani, but instead called on the new president to respect the opinions of 16 million voters who supported him and who had called for a change in Iran, Mehr news agency reported on Saturday.

Iranian Interior Minister Abdolreza Rahmani Fazli announced that around 73 percent of eligible voters, which equal 41.2 million, had participated in the election.

Several Iranian media outlets broadcasted segments of the celebrations staged by Rouhani’s supporters after the announcement of the results.

Pro-Rouhani media outlets mocked reformists who had raised the slogan of “Rouhani will leave at the end of this week,” during their presidential campaigns.

Last Friday, in addition to the presidential election, Iranian voters also participated in the Village Councils Elections.