Sunday, January 29, 2006

Rafsanjani in Qom, IAEA Inspectors in Lavizan

Shervin Omidvar, Rooz Online:
After participation in the “decisive meeting” at the end of last week, head of Iran’s State Expediency Council Hashemi Rafsanjani went to Qom and held private meetings with each grand ayatollah. The day after his return to Tehran, Mohammad Reza Tabesh a Majlis (Iran’s Parliament) member belonging the minority reformist group, tacitly announced the existing of a team that drew up the national nuclear agenda and which comprised the leading figures of the state.

Just a few months after Ali Larijani was appointed chairman of the powerful Supreme National Security Council (SNSC), and soon after president Ahmadinejad turned Iran’s nuclear talks and policy into a confrontation with the world, Rafsanjani’s trip to Iran’s two principal religious towns – Qom and Mashhad - which are home to the clerics in Iran, was noted by political observers as an important event. One indicator of this importance was when Rafsanjani cut his Mashhad trip press reports in Tehran indicated that the Supreme Leader of Iran, Ali Khamenei, had summoned him to Tehran. Teymour Ali Asqari was the first to publish the short end of the visit. He told reporters, The reason the trip was cut short was his summons by the Supreme Leader to participate in an important meeting.” Just the following day, the media published news of his trip to Qom. Tabesh in this regard this, “An important meeting to review the country’s nuclear issues was held with the participation of the leaders and other key figures of the country, and all the potentials of the country are being used to moderate the nuclear standoff.” READ MORE

In Qom, Rafsanjani spoke to the leading clerics and also held private meetings with senior ayatollahs. He is reported to have met with ayatollah Fazel Lankarani, Mosavi Ardebili, Makarem Shirazi, Safi Golpaygani, Nouri Mamedani, Mohammad-Taghi Behjat, Mirza Javad Tabrizi, Yusef Sanei, Meshkini, Javadi Amoli and the representative of ayatollah Sistani (in Iraq). Even though the contents of the talks have not been publicly announced, observers are certain that the talks were over Iran’s nuclear standoff.

Rafsanjani’s presence in the house of senior clerics is a rather unprecedented event, since he has hardly done that during the last two decades. After his meeting with ayatollah Meshkini, Rafsanjani called Iran’s nuclear issue a “divine test, and said the case now was under new circumstances which needed intelligence, resistance and thought to be taken through. With the West’s new posture, we have stepped into new territory which we must pass through using experience and confidence, otherwise the state will suffer,” he told ayatollah Meshkini.

Contrary to what president Ahmadinejad, SNSC head Larijani, and other leading hardliners say, Rafsanjani said: “even the slightest possibility of being taken to the UN Security is a very serious matter for us.” But perhaps the most important point that Rafsanjani brought up with Meshkini is that Iran is now at a crossroads on the nuclear issue. They want us to surrender, which is difficult for us. If we resist, we must pay a high price. This is a divine test for us, which I hope we will successfully pass,” he said. He makes it clear that the purpose of taking Iran to the UN Security Council is to make is surrender to the Western will. A decision at the Council is to our harm,” he clarified.

Another issue that Rafsanjani talked about in Qom is the upcoming elections for the Majlis Khobregan (Experts Assembly for the Supreme Leader). He called the council an aide to the leader, adding “It is essential that the most important national issues are discussed at the council, while I do not believe the discussion of some is prudent. If others were in our shoes, they would perhaps publicize and censure the officials of the country.”

The media in Iran have two different interpretations of Rafsanjani’s trip to and meetings in Qom. Some believe they revolved around the Khobregan issue, while others believe it is the nuclear issue that took him there.

A major pro government newspaper in Tehran revealed that government officials have allowed IAEA inspectors to visit nuclear facilities at Lavizan. An invitation was extended to IAEA’s AlBaradei in Vienna last week. Rafsanjani confirmed this spirit when he too announced that Iran was interested in provide guarantees to the Vienna based nuclear watchdog, which was followed by the announcement that Larijani would be traveling to London soon.

From amongst foreign media, Lebanon’s newspaper AlGabas too announced that Khamenei’s home had a very important meeting in which senior military and civil officials participated.

So while Iranian officials have been downplaying the significance of a possible referral of Iran to the UN Security Council and have warned that Iran would use its oil weapon if that were to happen, last week’s events demonstrate beyond doubt that one cannot categorically say that position accurately portrays the thinking of the leaders. On politics of oil, it should be noted that just recently Saudi Arabia undertook a trip to Peking, which gets a large part of its oil needs from Iran, and signed a large agreement thereof. The Saudis are also in the process of negotiating a big oil deal with India, another major importer of Iran’s oil. And they have openly said that if Iran’s oil is sanctioned, it will raise its own production levels to compensate for the market loss.

It is not without cause therefore that Rafsanjani calls Iran’s current position to be at a “dangerous bend.”