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Iran: Assembly of Experts Meets Under Guise of Mid-term Session

By Mahnaz Malekuti, Rooz Online

Mahdavi Kani is Absent

Photo: Assembly of experts session in March 2011

Finally, the pledge that seyed Ahmad Khatami, a member of the presiding board of the  Assembly of experts on Leadership made, was materialized this week and the first mid-term meeting of the Assembly was held after 33 years. But its chairman, Mohammad-Reza Mahdavi Kani was absent from the session, prompting questions, explanations and speculations in media and political circles. The session was run by Kani’s deputy, extremist cleric Mohammad Yazdi.

Media reports in Iran did not name other participants of this extra-ordinary meeting. The Assembly of Experts on Leadership is responsible for monitoring the work of the supreme leader and theoretically appoints the new leader. It comprises of 86 senior clerics (mojtaheds) elected by the public. Since its inception, it has regularly met two times a year.

Khatami had earlier told semi-official Fars news agency that the Experts Assembly would convene for a mid-term session to “launch and address the issues facing the committees and of course enrich the decisions of the Assembly that will be reached at the Assembly’s next meet in August/September.” According to him, this session was scheduled to be held on July 12, 2012, as had been decided during a session of the Assembly. He had also explained that the heads of the committees, members of the presiding board and 5 elected representatives from the Assembly would participate in the emergency session.

Even though Khatami did not specify at which Assembly meeting was the decision to hold a mid-term session made, article 19 of the internal rules of the body specifies that “emergency sessions” can be convened as determined by the presiding board, with the participation of 10 members of the body.

In Kani’s absence, who replaced Hashemi Rafsanjani as the head of the Assembly in 2011 as the latter’s political position in the country was under growing attack since the 2009 presidential election fiasco, his deputy Mohammad Yazdi chaired the emergency gathering. Yazdi objected to the use of the term “emergency” for the meeting and added that viewing as an emergency was a hundred percent incorrect. “This is a legal and regular meeting with a clear goal. A mid-term session is based on the decision of the body which is held between the two main session of the Assembly. At this meeting, a number of committee chairmen, members of the presiding board and individuals associated with specific issues have been invited and will review the issues,” he asserted.

Yazdi did not specify at which sitting was the decision to hold the mid-term session decided, something that has raised suspicion, particularly as no announcement was made after the last meeting of the Assembly in February/March about a mid-term session. During this emergency gathering, Yazdi made a reference to Kani’s absence but dismissed it by saying “work had come up” for Kani and added that there was no “specific issue” that had caused his absence.

Yazdi chose two topics for his presentation: “sanctions” and “differences among the leaders” of the Islamic regime, implying these were the two reasons for convening the mid-term gathering. “The next issue are the sanctions and their impact on inflation, people’s problems, and those of the manufacturing units. There is no doubt that the enemy has used every opportunity since the first days of the (1979) revolution till today to confront the Islamic Republic. The Islamic Republic in return has responded appropriately and has been successful in this until now. These problems and sanctions will be resolved and they are 100 percent wrong to believe that these problems will result in a retreat by the Islamic Republic because we will not retreat on the nuclear or non-nuclear issues,” he said.

These remarks about not retreating on the nuclear issue come just a few days after news reports indicated that Iran had in fact retreated from its earlier positions on nuclear enrichment and was accepting a suspension of its work to enrich uranium to 20 percent purity levels. At the same time, a poll by the state-run television network in Iran indicated that 62 percent of respondents in the country had favored a gradual suspension of the enrichment program in return for the easing of Western sanctions on the country as a way to end the long-standing confrontation which has caused numerous issues for the country.

The deep differences among the authorities of the Islamic regime, which have been particularly rising in recent months, was the second topic of Yazdi’s talk. “Differences of opinion among people are natural but there are no differences in the common goals and the senior authorities of the country, the heads of the three branches and their affiliate agencies, are working to find solutions to better meet the challenges caused by the sanctions,” he said.

In addition to being a member of the Assembly’s presiding board, Yazdi is also the secretary of Society of Teachers and Scholars of Qom Theological Seminary, an influential clerical body in the country. Yazdi prescribes more talks between the decision-making authorities of the country to resolve their differences. “In comparison to the days when I held a judiciary position and convened meetings with the three heads of the government branches, I notice that the current authorities are determined to undertake more serious issues,” he said. “We must clarify to people that resistance will bring good benefits and that past experience has shown that this phase of the struggle will also emerge victorious,” he continued. “There is pressure and no doubt that they will have an impact but the Iranian nation is firm in tolerating them for its valuable high goals and is now used to the pressures.”

These remarks by Yazdi also come at a time when inflation and sharp increases in prices of people’s daily needs, following the latest round of international sanctions, oil embargo and removal of domestic subsidies, have resulted in a wave of criticism against the government and decision makers in the country.

It should be noted that the deliberations of the Assembly are confidential and not published in the media. The published remarks by Yazdi are a departure from the norm. The last extra-ordinary or emergency meeting of the Assembly was held 33 years ago after the then supreme leader ayatollah Khomeini passed away, at which the current leader ayatollah Khamenei was elected to succeed Khomeini.

No members of the Assembly, including Rafsanjani who was the chairman until 2011, have as yet commented on this emergency meeting of the body. The next regular meeting of the Assembly is planned to be held in August/September of this year.

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