A week ago, former Iranian President Rafsanjani heightened domestic political tensions in Iran by making a speech criticizing President Ahmadinejad, which the Financial Times of London called "a comprehensive attack on the man who defeated him in June's presidential election. 'Our society has been divided into two poles and some people are behaving aggressively,' he said. Mr. Rafsanjani -- who chairs the Expediency Council, which arbitrates between state bodies -- criticized a tendency to 'try to remove and isolate invaluable individuals and efficient managers.'"[1]  --  If "an informed Iranian source" cited by the Guardian (UK) is to be believed, Ahmadinejad's problems are so significant that he could even face impeachment by the Majlis, the Iranian parliament.[2]  --  In a companion piece, the same reporters said that "Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's clearout of his opponents . . . is more sweeping than previously understood and has reached almost every branch of government. . . . Dozens of deputy ministers have been sacked this month in several government departments, as well the heads of the state insurance and privatization organizations. Last week, seven state bank presidents were dismissed in what an Iranian source described as 'a coup d'état.'  --  An informed Iranian source with first-hand knowledge of all the main political and clerical figures in the country said:  'Ahmadinejad is defying everybody. He does whatever he wants and considers it to be right. This is not how things are done in Iran.'"[3]  --  In mid-week, the crisis atmosphere intensified when the Majlis rejected President Ahmadinejad's nominee for oil minister for the third time.[4]  --  On Saturday, the London Independent described the situation in dramatic terms:  "A power struggle of titanic proportions has broken out between Iran's newly elected President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the country's parliament."[5]  --  The dramatic power struggle has so far not much affected the international diplomacy over Iran's nuclear program, however, as the IAEA on Thursday decided not to refer Iran to the Security Council, a decision Rafsanjani applauded.[6] ...

1.

Middle East & Africa

IRAN LEADER DAMAGING UNITY, SAYS RAFSANJANI
By Gareth Smyth

Financial Times (UK)
November 18, 2005

http://news.ft.com/cms/s/95969b00-570f-11da-b98c-00000e25118c.html

TEHRAN -- Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, Iran's former president and veteran of the 1979 Islamic revolution, has attacked President Mahmoud Ahmadi-Nejad for damaging "national unity and solidarity."

Mr. Rafsanjani's speech yesterday to the country's prayer leaders came two days after Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the supreme leader, called on all citizens to support Mr. Ahmadi-Nejad's government.

Past disagreements between Mr. Rafsanjani and Ayatollah Khamenei have usually been in private and such a clash suggests a serious struggle among the ruling elite. Mr. Rafsanjani had previously made vague criticisms of Mr. Ahmadi-Nejad over his belligerence in foreign policy, including a call to "wipe Israel off the map."

But in yesterday's speech, Mr. Rafsanjani, while not mentioning Mr. Ahmadi-Nejad by name, made a comprehensive attack on the man who defeated him in June's presidential election. "Our society has been divided into two poles and some people are behaving aggressively," he said. Mr Rafsanjani -- who chairs the Expediency Council, which arbitrates between state bodies -- criticized a tendency to "try to remove and isolate invaluable individuals and efficient managers."

Since Mr. Ahmadi-Nejad took office, the government has announced it will change 40 of 72 ambassadors, including some of Iran's most seasoned diplomats. It also recently sacked seven managing directors of state banks. Some are considered allies of Mr. Rafsanjani, who may now be trying to defend others likely to be purged.

Mr. Rafsanjani criticised the president for "vague pictures" in his trumpeted fight against corruption, focused on what Mr. Ahmadi-Nejad calls the "oil mafia."

"Uttering words in which everyone is questioned is not fighting corruption," Mr. Rafsanjani said. "If you know who is economically corrupt, announce the name, and put him on trial."

With growing indications of a flight of capital and with the Tehran stock exchange 20 per cent lower since the election, Mr. Rafsanjani said that to reach targeted growth of 8 per cent, Iran needed foreign and domestic capital. "We will be forced to kneel down if development is not continued seriously," he said. "If we think we can run the country only with existing facilities, then we are making a big mistake."

In another indication of political tension, Ayatollah Mohammad Taqi Mesbah-Yazdi, an influential conservative cleric, rallied behind Mr. Ahmadi-Nejad yesterday, telling Revolutionary Guard commanders: "The enemy's questioning of the government's efficiency should be stopped."

Meanwhile, Iran's newspapers reported that Mr. Ahmadi-Nejad had not co-ordinated with parliament over Mohsen Tasalloti, his latest nominee for the vacant oil ministry. But most analysts felt Mr. Tasalloti was still more likely to win a parliamentary vote of approval than two earlier nominees, who were rejected after deputies doubted their experience and competence.

2.

POLEMIC AND PURGES PILE UP TROUBLES FOR IRAN'S LEADER
By Simon Tisdall and Ewen MacAskill

Guardian (UK)
November 18, 2005

Source: Guardian

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad faces a range of critical problems with the West, ranging from Iran's nuclear ambitions to its deep hostility to Israel. But the Iranian president's handling of these flashpoints is also creating internal problems -- reaching the highest levels in Tehran.

Mr. Ahmadinejad has divided the powerful clerical establishment as well as alienating moderate conservatives and reformers, an informed Iranian source said yesterday. "He is defying everybody. But he is not a power that cannot be challenged."

The new president's most controversial step was his comment that Israel was a blot that should be "wiped off the map." His words brought international condemnation and delighted Iran's many enemies, who said his remarks demonstrated the problems they faced in trying to deal rationally with Tehran.

The Iranian source said: "What he said about Israel united everyone. It delighted the American neo-cons, it delighted all our Arab rivals, it delighted the Israelis, and it delighted -- at the emotional level -- the poor, long-suffering Palestinians. But it was totally against Iran's national interest."

Mr. Ahmadinejad's mixture of confrontationalism and inexperience is causing growing ructions at home. Several rows have flared about his nominees for key ministries -- in particular the oil ministry -- with parliamentarians complaining about a failure to consult. His purge of dozens of senior ministers, officials, and diplomats brought an unusual rebuke this week from Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, a former president whom he beat in this year's presidential election and who chairs the Expediency Council, a government oversight body.

Plans to enlarge the ambassadorial cull to include up to 40 diplomats were shelved following angry political and media reaction in Tehran.

For the Iranian population at large, it is the president's failure so far to create jobs, raise living standards, or crack down on corruption associated with Iran's oil industry that is most serious. His planned extension of state controls of the economy and his peremptory sacking of seven state bank presidents has undermined business confidence.

His idea of offering state handouts to newlyweds has not changed public perception that he and his inexperienced cabinet have failed to get to grips with the main economic problems for the country's 70 million people.

"The first test of popularity for the new government will come with municipal elections next year and elections for the Assembly of Experts [who elect the Supreme Leader or senior cleric]," the source said. "But if he continues like this, he could face impeachment in the Majlis [parliament] if the conservative majority turns against him. There will be no 'Orange Revolution' in Iran, but popular discontent on the streets could grow."

Mr. Ahmadinejad had his first opportunity to set a new tone when he addressed the United Nations summit in New York in September. His confrontational speech, in which he insisted on Iran's inalienable right to develop weapons-related nuclear technology, dismayed Britain, France, and Germany, the three European Union countries that have been negotiating over the nuclear dispute for the past two years.

Within days of taking office, Mr. Ahmadinejad sacked the head of Iran's nuclear negotiating team, Ali Larijani, and ordered the resumption of uranium conversion, the first step towards a possible nuclear weapon capability.

Dealing with the unstable and potentially dangerous situation within Tehran poses a fresh headache for Western governments. But the international community is as divided as the Iranians. Scarred by memories of the runup to the Iraq war, divisions have emerged between leading U.N. states. Russia and China are opposed to a rush to sanctions, and India, which has just signed a big energy deal with Iran, also favors a gradual approach.

Britain, France, and Germany have used the nuclear negotiations to boost a concept of a European foreign policy while holding back a more confrontational U.S. administration.

But even within these countries there are splits over tactics. British officials admit there is a difference in approach between Tony Blair and his foreign secretary, Jack Straw. While Mr. Straw has repeatedly said military action against Iran over its nuclear policy is "inconceivable," Mr. Blair has sought to keep the Iranians guessing. He favors challenging Iran not only on the nuclear issue but on human rights, support for anti-Israeli groups, and even the legitimacy of its democracy. He wants to engage the support of the Iranian diaspora and to encourage growth of a civil society.

But Iranian officials calculate that President George Bush, distracted by Iraq and domestic problems, is unlikely to seek another confrontation. They hope this will buy Iran time to sort out its own problems.

3.

IRAN IN TURMOIL AS PRESIDENT'S PURGE DEEPENS
By Simon Tisdall and Ewen Macaskill

Guardian (UK)
November 18, 2005

Source: Guardian (UK)

Iran is facing political paralysis as its newly elected president purges government institutions, bringing accusations that he is undertaking a coup d'état.

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's clearout of his opponents began last month but is more sweeping than previously understood and has reached almost every branch of government, the Guardian has learned. Dozens of deputy ministers have been sacked this month in several government departments, as well the heads of the state insurance and privatization organizations. Last week, seven state bank presidents were dismissed in what an Iranian source described as "a coup d'état."

An informed Iranian source with first-hand knowledge of all the main political and clerical figures in the country said: "Ahmadinejad is defying everybody. He does whatever he wants and considers it to be right. This is not how things are done in Iran."

The upheaval at the highest government levels in Tehran follows the dismissal of four senior ambassadors and has raised questions about Iran's ability to conclude negotiations on its nuclear program which are due to come to a head at a U.N. meeting in Vienna next week.

Mr. Ahmadinejad drew international condemnation after he made comments about wiping Israel off the map. Concern about the government's isolationist stance has been increased by claims from Tony Blair that Iran is aiding bombmakers attacking British troops in south-east Iraq.

Growing resistance inside Iran to Mr. Ahmadinejad, who was unexpectedly elected in June, is coming from several senior figures and sections of the media. Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, a former president who was runner-up in the election, denounced the purge and, in comments reported by Iranian news agencies, suggested the president should be reined in.

"A tendency in Iran is trying to banish competent officials and it is harming the country like a plague," Mr. Rafsanjani said. "Our society has been divided into two poles and some people are behaving aggressively." Hassan Rohani, sacked as Iran's senior nuclear negotiator, told Tehran newspapers that the negotiations with the West were being mishandled. The former president Mohammad Khatami also voiced concern that Mr. Ahmadinejad was exceeding his powers.

In a sign of divisions at the top of the clerical establishment, the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has until now supported Mr. Ahmadinejad, said "irregularities" in the government's behavior would not be tolerated.

Iranian sources said opinion in the conservative-controlled majlis [parliament], which initially welcomed the president's election, was becoming uneasy. There has been a series of rows about Mr. Ahmadinejad's nominees to top ministry jobs, including in the oil ministry. The stock market has fallen 30% since the new president took office, and there is growing criticism of his failure to deliver on promises to create jobs and raise living standards.

"There is a very tense situation. Ahmadinejad has made a very bad start and needs to get attuned to political realities," the Iranian source said, suggesting that Mr. Ahmadinejad could face impeachment proceedings in the majlis if he continued to pack the government with his appointees.

But the source said Western threats of economic sanctions or military action against Iran were strengthening Mr. Ahmadinejad at the expense of moderate conservatives, liberals and reformers.

Paralysis at the top of the Iranian government could pose serious problems for the West as it struggles to resolve the nuclear stand-off. Iran began processing a fresh batch of uranium yesterday in spite of compromise proposals. Next week's U.N. meeting will debate whether to refer Iran to the security council for possible action.

4.

AHMADINEJAD FACES CRISIS AS MPs REJECT OIL NOMINEE
By Robert Tait

Guardian (UK)
November 24, 2005

Source: Guardian (UK)

Iran's president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, was propelled into a crisis yesterday after MPs rejected his third nominee as oil minister, the most strategically sensitive post in his government. Amid a rising chorus of domestic criticism of the president's confrontational style, the Iranian parliament, the majlis, rebuffed his choice of Mohsen Tasalloti for a job that entails control over the lion's share of the economy.

Mr. Tasalloti, a former revolutionary guard comrade of the president, had been beset by rumors that he is a millionaire with a green card for the U.S. and has a daughter living in Britain. Mr Ahmadinejad yesterday called the claims "unjust" and said parliament's decision was "not fair." But it was clear that the reservations over Mr. Tasalloti's personal shortcomings were little more than a front for a bitter struggle for control of Iran's key industry between radical Islamist supporters of Mr. Ahmadinejad and traditional conservatives backing Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the Islamic state's supreme leader and its pivotal religious and political figure.

Two weeks ago, Mr. Ahmadinejad's second choice for oil minister, Sadeq Mahsouli, withdrew because he lacked sufficient parliamentary support to win approval. The original nominee was rejected in August. With the official deadline for approval of cabinet ministers expiring today, the next oil minister of the world's fourth-biggest producer of the fuel may now be chosen either by the guardian council -- a religious watchdog loyal to Mr. Khamenei, or by the expediency council, an organisation headed by Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, who was defeated by Mr. Ahmadinejad in this year's presidential election and has since been very critical of the president's political performance.

Losing control over the appointment would deal a serious blow to Mr. Ahmadinejad, who won the June poll largely due to promises to redistribute Iran's oil wealth to the poor. It follows speculation that he may be impeached over a controversial political record that has so far included the sacking of four senior Iranian ambassadors and seven state bank chiefs, as well as the removal of a host of less prominent figures, and a 25% slump in stock exchange values.

"We have never before seen this kind of conflict between parliament and the government, even before the revolution," said a Tehran-based political analyst, Saeed Leylaz. But "Iran is earning oil revenues of about $110m, [pounds 69m] per day and that is big enough to compensate for the [president's political] mismanagement."

5.

IRAN'S PRESIDENT DIGS IN AS LEADERSHIP CRISIS DEEPENS
By Angus McDowall

Independent (UK)
November 26, 2005

Source: Independent (UK)

A power struggle of titanic proportions has broken out between Iran's newly elected President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the country's parliament.

Now the President's domestic political agenda is in danger of collapse, after MPs refused to accept his choices for the top post of oil minister. And a new scandal in Tehran municipality tarnished his election promises to weed out corruption. The President's former parliamentary supporters say they have been alienated by his closed-door style of rule that has opened deep rifts in the ruling conservative faction.

An investigation into municipal spending has revealed Tehran's conservative council exhausted most of its 11.6m-pound budget for cultural activities in the run-up to June's presidential election when Mr. Ahmadinejad was city mayor. Officials have admitted there is little documentation for the spending, leading to speculation that it was used unofficially for the election campaign.

On Wednesday, parliamentarians from the President's own political wing cheered and congratulated each other after inflicting a stinging defeat on the President by rejecting his third choice of oil minister, the most important job in the cabinet. With oil prices soaring, the minister controls a sector worth a third of government revenue and has huge influence to support or block funding for the social engineering projects so beloved of the President.

Mr. Ahmadinejad made a last-ditch appeal to the Majlis, the Iranian parliament, before the vote. 'The government respects the Majlis, but unjustly accusing a brother on an unknown internet site . . . is not fair,' he said, attempting to swing the vote behind his choice. Mohsen Tasalloti had been accused of having a U.S. residence permit.

Even Mr. Ahmadinejad's reformist predecessor, Mohammed Khatami, managed to win support for his first cabinet from a Majlis dominated by conservatives who opposed his reformist ambitions. The failure to appoint an oil minister three months into a new administration is unprecedented and two top government watchdog committees have been tasked with finding a solution to the deadlock.

Majlis members quoted after the vote said they were angry they had not been consulted about the President's choice, which is part of a wider policy of replacing senior government officials with lesser-known ideologues. Political supporters have been brought in to manage the diplomatic service and cultural and economic organizations. This week the head of Tehran's stock exchange, which has lost a quarter of its value since the election, was replaced by a 27-year-old economics graduate.

'Ahmadinejad has a slogan of co-operation between parliament and government, but it would be better if he actually conferred with his lawmakers,' said a Majlis deputy.

Reformists and technocrats talk of a purge, but the changes were not unexpected and fall within the rights of an incoming president. However, they have displeased political allies, who are concerned that these inexperienced young ideologues are not up to the job. Appointing a nonentity to the oil ministry post was seen as a step too far.

Last week Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, who despite his election defeat in June remains a leading figure in the regime, openly criticized Mr Ahmadinejad's supporters for ousting officials on the pretext of corruption. 'They soil the reputation of our political and economic managers with abandon in the name of fighting corruption,' said the former president, who has a foot in both the reformist and conservative camps.

Since his election, Mr. Ahmadinejad has focused power in a small cabal of close supporters, infuriating powerful figures.

6.

WISDOM PREVAILED AT U.N. ATOMIC MEETING: IRAN CLERIC

Reuters
November 26, 2005

Original source: Reuters

Influential Iranian cleric Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani said on Friday the U.N. nuclear watchdog's latest statement on Iran's disputed atomic program was a step in the right direction but still had elements of "harassment."

The International Atomic Energy Agency decided on Thursday not to refer Iran to the U.N. Security Council for possible sanctions in order to give Russia time to broker a compromise deal under which Moscow would enrich Iran's processed uranium.

"This time a kind of wisdom, precaution, and an avoidance of adventurism prevailed over the IAEA meeting," Rafsanjani told worshippers at Friday prayers in Tehran.

The mid-ranking cleric heads the powerful Expediency Council which arbitrates in constitutional disputes.

Iran has been risking referral to the Council after failing to convince the world that its nuclear scientists are working on fuel for power stations rather than bombs.

Western diplomats say Tehran could guarantee that the uranium would only be enriched to the low level needed for power stations, and not to the higher weapons-grade, by allowing Russia to act a middle man and conduct the nuclear fuel work.

Rafsanjani, president from 1989 to 1997, made no specific reference to this proposal.

"There are some points in the communiqué that betray a vestige of harassment," he said.

The IAEA statement noted that Western powers reckoned Tehran had a long way to go to refute suspicions it had a covert atomic bomb project.

It also said some IAEA members were disturbed by Iran's disclosure that it got documents from black marketeers describing in part how to build the core of a nuclear bomb.

"We will never accept being bullied and it is not worth you bullying us," Rafsanjani added.