Thursday, June 29, 2006

Power Struggle in Iran - Part III: Iran Establishes New Foreign Relations Steering Council

A. Savyon*, The Middle East Media Research Institute:
On June 25, 2006, Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei announced the establishment of the new Foreign Relations Steering Council, whose official function is to set Iran's foreign relations policy and strategy.

The council, whose members are appointed for a five-year term, is headed by Kamal Kharrazi, who served as foreign minister for eight years under former (reformist) president Mohammad Khatami. Other members are Ali Akbar Velayati, who served as foreign minister for 16 years (1981-1997) and who has, for the past few years, been serving as Supreme Leader Khamenei's personal advisor on international affairs; former defense minister Ali Shamkhani and former commerce minister Mohammad Shariatmadari, both of whom served in president Khatami's cabinet; and Mohammad Hossein Taremi.

It should be noted that the council members are loyal to Khamenei, and were personally appointed by him.

The decision to establish the council can thus be seen as an attempt by Khamenei to tighten his control over the regime, as well as to dictate and control Iran's foreign policy – which up until now was determined jointly by himself, the Supreme National Security Council, and the president – and to oversee President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, whose mentor is Ayatollah Taqi Mesbah Yazdi. READ MORE

The establishment of this council, which essentially is responsible for setting policy and overseeing the executive branch, is the second major structural change carried out by Khamenei in the year since Ahmadinejad became president; the first such change was establishing Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani as the regime's No. 2 man.(1)

The choice of the council appointees can also be regarded as an attempt to reinstate a reformist presence in the political system, at least to some extent. Even though the council members are not themselves considered to be reformist figures, three of them served in president Khatami's reformist cabinet.

The following are excerpts from statements by council head Kamal Kharrazi, cited in an IRNA report on the establishment of the new council.(2)

Kharrazi: "The Council was Established to Make Up for a Deficiency in the Foreign Relations Policy-Making Processes"

Kamal Kharrazi, head of the Foreign Relations Steering Council, said: "The Council was established to make up for a deficiency in the foreign relations policy-making processes... [According to Khamenei's decree,] the deficiency stems from lack of strategy in foreign relations... The Supreme Leader [Khamenei] sensed this deficiency... a long time ago. He noticed that, once the regime's foreign relations policies were drawn up by the Expediency Council [headed by Hashemi Rafsanjani] and approved by [Khamenei] himself, and [once] the relevant directives were issued to the executive branch [i.e. to the Ahmadinejad government], there was no strategy on the basis of which they could be implemented..."

"[We Oversee] All Governmental and Non-Governmental Institutions Involved in Foreign Relations"

"The Foreign Relations Steering Council is responsible for all foreign relations issues on the strategic level. It has nothing to do with implementation [which is the responsibility of Ahmadinejad's government]... Foreign relations are not limited to foreign policy. [We oversee] all governmental and non-governmental institutions involved in foreign relations."

About the Council's involvement in formulating Iran's nuclear policy, he said: "We do not have executive plans. Implementation is [the responsibility of] the Supreme National Security Council. However, its general policy and relevant strategy are determined by the Supreme Leader [Khamenei]. Therefore, if the Council has a position regarding the general policy and strategy to achieve the country's ultimate goal in the nuclear issue, it will present [its position] to the Supreme Leader, and Ayatollah Khamenei will decide on it. If Khamenei approves the presented strategy, the executive branch will proceed to... implement it."

Kharrazi added that the Foreign Relations Steering Council will cooperate with both the Foreign Ministry and the Supreme National Security Council.

Kharrazi also referred to the Supreme Leader's intention of involving experts in the policy-making process: "[We] should utilize the experience of numerous specialists who have served in the government for years in the field of foreign relations, and [the experience of other experts] from universities and research centers... Efforts will be made to cooperate with the universities..."

* A. Savyon is Director of MEMRI's Iranian Media Project.

(1) See previous reports on this issue:

MEMRI Inquiry & Analysis No. 253, "The 'Second Islamic Revolution' in Iran: Power Struggle at the Top," November 17, 2005.

MEMRI Inquiry & Analysis No. 278, "Power Struggle in Iran – Part II: Elections for the Assembly of Experts," June 1, 2006.

(2) IRNA (Islamic Republic News Agency) English-language website, June 27, 2006. The text has been edited for style.