The Iran Brief®

Policy, Trade & Strategic Affairs

An investigative tool for business executives, government, and the media.
7831 Woodmont Ave, Suite 395, Bethesda, MD -USA

Tel: (301) 946-2918. Fax: (301)942-5341

Copyright © 1994-98, by the Middle East DataProject, Inc. All rights reserved.

Issue Number 56, dated 3/8/99

Showdown in Tehran (2): Khatami plays his cards

Iranian President Hojjat-ol eslam Mohammad Khatami won a sweepingvictory in the Feb. 26 local council elections with an estimated 70%of some 200,000 newly-elected officials said to be supporting hisreformist line. It was the first time Iranians have been able to votefor local officials since the time of the Shah.

But Khatami's election victory almost didn't happen. Hard-linersresorted to legal maneuvers, intimidation, and in some cases physicalviolence, in efforts to discredit Khatami and discourage hissupporters.

Last month we reported that hard-liners including Supreme LeaderAyatollah Khamene'i, Majlis speaker Nateq-Nouri, and former PresidentHashemi-Rafsanjani warned Khatami to stop his investigation into theMOIS hit squads. Undeterred, Khatami demanded the resignation ofIntelligence Minister Dorri-Najafabadi.

Not long after we published our report, Khatami not only gotDorri-Najafabadi's resignation, but succeeded in getting his owncandidate approved by the hard-line Majlis to succeed him as head ofIranian intelligence (see below).

Our sources inside Iran now tell us that just five days after thetumultuous weekend meetings, Khatami returned to meet with Khamene'ialone. Khatami not only repeated his demand for Dorri-Najafabadi'shead, but warned Khamene'i not to go through with his threats todisallow reformist candidates, including close Khatami ally AbdallahNouri, from running in the local elections.

Nouri's candidacy was in fact annulled by an election boardcontrolled by hard-liners on Feb. 22 . But he ran anyway and won themost votes of all twenty elected Council members for the city ofTehran. There is now talk that he will become Tehran's new mayor, orfailing that, be given the power to control Tehran's finances, thefirst time an elected official has ever had such powers in Iran.

Not Banisadr: Khatami warned Khamene'i during this January 21face-off that he would not allow himself to be removed from office tosatisfy the hard-liners, and that the extent of his popular supportwould make any attempt to remove him by the regime extremelydangerous. "I want you to know that my name is not Abdolhassan," hetold Khamene'i, according to sources who heard accounts of themeeting.

Khatami was referring to Abdolhassan Banisadr, the first Presidentof the Islamic Republic who was removed from office by AyatollahKhomeini in June 1981 and promptly went into exile in France.

"We are both sitting on a branch that is being sawed off," Khatamisaid, "and we will certainly crash to the ground if the presentsituation continues.... The country is facing complete collapse,"Khatami said. "I was elected by 70% of the voters, and even here manypeople did not believe the elections were fair, because otherwise Iwould have received 90% of the votes. Today, as a result of theactions of the hardliners against me, I would get 95% support."

Khatami's demands: Khatami then presented a letter, prepared byhis top economic advisor, former Prime Minister Mir Hossein Moussavi,listing eight demands which he insisted be met by February 26, theday of the elections.

1) The government must be given absolute decision-making power inall areas relating to executive branch operations, from theappointment of ministers and day-to-day decisions, to control oversemi-governmental organizations;

2) Reform of the security forces and their control by the Ministryof Interior

3) The appointment of Mir Hossein Moussavi as First VicePresident, replacing Hasan Habibi, and as Executive Assistant to thePresident, a post now occupied by Mohammad Hashemi, the youngerbrother of former President Hashemi-Rafsanjani. Moussavi would alsobe put in charge of a High Economic Council and be given full powersover economic policy and planning. In addition, the Ministry ofFinance will assume control over all foundations, including thepowerful Bonyad-e Mostazafan, which today controls large segments ofthe Iranian economy for the benefit of Ayatollah Khamene'i, itstitular head. This first timid step against the Bonyads, ifsuccessful, is Khatami's first real attempt at structural reform.

4) Parliament will have no right to interfere with economicpolicy.

5) The government will assume control over Iran's foreignpolicy.

6) The local elections will go ahead according to the law, undersupervision of the Ministry of the Interior and without theinterference of other individuals, groups, or organizations.

7) Reforms will be carried out prior to the next Parliamentaryelections.

8) Ayatollah Khamene'i would remain the religious leader of theIslamic Republic and Commander in Chief of the armed forces. 50billion rials would be cut from funds budgetted for the islamicRepublic Guard Corps (IRGC), but Khamene'i would be free to assistthe IRGC using his own discretionary funds.

Khatami ended by warning that if his demands were not met,"violence will prevail and the people will take to the streets." Theeconomy was in a state of collapse, with massive unemployment anddisastisfaction among Iranian youth, he said. "The situation in thecountry is much worse than anybody thinks. This is the direct redsultof 8 years of Ransanjani's rule."

The regime strikes back: Regime hardliners did not take Khatami'sassault lying down. In a private meeting in London between Iran'sformer ambassador to Germany, Hossein Moussavian, and Britishgovernment officials, they attempted to paint a top MOIS officialimplicated in the murders of Iranian dissidents, Mohammad Moussavi,as a key Khatami ally. These charges were repeated on a state-runtelevision program back in Tehran, prompting a stern rebuke from thepro-Khatami faction. (Moussavi was a top deputy to Hojjat-ol eslamMohammad Reyshahri in the 1980s).

In Qom, a hard-line gang attacked Hadi Khamene'i, a prominentKhatami supporter, after a mourning ceremony on February 11. Althoughhe is the younger brother of the Supreme Leader, Hadi Khamene'i andhis left-wing daily Jahan-e Eslam (Islamic World) have supportedKhatami.

Just four days before the elections, the hard-liners tried again,this time disqualifying Khatami ally Abdallah Nouri and 50 otherpro-Khatami candidates from the elections.

But each time, the Khatami faction held fast. And for good reason:the Iranian president held a trump card, and he was playing it veryclose to his vest.

The Younesi report: Our sources in Tehran report that one reasonKhatami waited a full week before officially nominating Ali Younesito succeed Dorri-Najafabadi, who resigned as Minister of Intelligenceand Security on Feb. 9, was to make sure he first signed his TopSecret report on the dissident murders. Younesi signed the documenton Feb. 17, and Khatami promptly forwarded his nomination toParliament the same day.

Khatami waited yet another week before moving the nomination to avote. When the roll was finally called on Feb. 24, his victory wastotal. Out of 270 members of Parliament, 224 voted to approveYounesi's nomination. Even more stunning. only 9 deputies actuallyvoted against him. The others either failed to attend the session(19) or abstained from the vote (18).

The reason for this victory was the Younesi report.

[Margin:] Sources in Tehran told The Iran Brief thatYounesi accused top advisors of Supreme Leader Ayatollah AliKhamene'i of having orchestrated the murder of Iranian dissidents.Among them:

• Askar Oladi. Like Younesi himself, a member of theFedayan-e Eslam, the terrorist brigades that helped decimate thecommand structure of the Shah's army during the Revoution, andopponents of Ayatollah Khomeini in its aftermath. Askar Oladi worksclosely with key members of the Bazaar on Khamene'i's behalf

• Valiollah Mohammad Pourmohammadi, deputy Minister ofIntelligence & Security in charge of External Affairs andAyatollah Khamene'i's personal representative to the MOIS. A memberof the hit team that killed the Forouhars was captured on audio tapeat the Forouhars house, calling Pourmohammadi for instructions afterhe had murdered Parvaneh Forouhar. President Khatami reportedlyplayed portions of that tape to Ayatollah Khamene'i as a means ofensuring he would not remove him from office.

• Mohammad Moussavi, General Director of MOIS in charge ofinternal security.

Younesi's report also implicated five members of Khamene'i'sprivate office for their role in the killings.

Khatami appears to have made a pact with Khamene'i to keep thereport quiet, as long as Khamene'i kept the hard-line faction undercontrol.

On Feb. 22, Younesi's successor as military prosecutor for Tehran,Mohammad Niyazi, told IRNA that his office had arrested four more(unidentified) persons who had played an "important role" in killingthe Forouhars and two other secular writers late last year. He didnot say if the four were linked to MOIS, but said that one of the newsuspects had been arrested after he had fled to Turkey and "returned"to Iran.

"His arrest resulted in important information," Niyazi said. Thesuspects "had transferred some classified documents out of theIntelligence Ministry and hidden them in another place. We laterfound the documents along with some forged official and militarydocuments and stamps."

Niyazi's terse statement is likely to set the norm for revelationscoming from the regime - unless Ayatollah Khamene'i fails to reign inthe hard-liners or for his own reasons choses a showdown withPresident Khatami.