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WikiLeaks & Iran Special (June 2009): Brother of Supreme Leader's Military Advisor "The Election Was a Political Coup"

I just checked our archives --- we first posted this document on 6 February 2011 in "Wikileaks and Iran: Did Mojtaba Khamenei Rig the 2009 Election? (And Where Did the Cable Go?)". We noted its contents, as well as another cable which briefly surface --- implicating the Supreme Leader's son Mojtaba in the election fraud --- but then disappeared. At that time, however, the cable was "redacted", so we did not have the vital information that the source was the brother of the Supreme Leader's military advisor.

Released in this month's mass "drop" of US documents by WikiLeaks, this may be the most explosive document I have seen about the disputed 2009 Iranian Presidential Election. That is not just because of the content --- a graphic description of an election stolen under the direction of a member of the Supreme Leader's office (his son, Mojtaba Khamenei?) amidst a divided establishment, with the Revolutionary Guards split over support for Mahmoud Ahmadinejad --- but because of the support.

The claims are not made by a foreign agency or by the Iranian opposition. For the first time, the source is close to the highest levels of the regime: Ayatollah Syed Salman Safavi, the brother of the military advisor to the Supreme Leader who outlines:

1. The election was a "political coup", with disruption of Mir Hossein Mousavi's organisation and communications, an exaggerated vote for Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and a very quick announcement of the supposed results. The fraud was orchestrated by someone "very close to the [Supreme] Leader" and involved the commander of the Revolutionary Guards, Mohammad Ali Jafari.

2. The decision to manipulate the election was prompted by the perceived surge of support for Mir Hossein Mousavi, especially after his performance in a 1-on-1 debate with Ahmadinejad.

3. The Revolutionary Guards split over the manipulation, with a majority opposed Jafari and the Basij militia's command.

4. The political establishment were also divided. Only a minority of conservatives supported Ahmadinejad before the vote, and he was only backed by one senior cleric, Mesbah Yazdi.

5. To bolster the opposition, which had turned out in the hundreds of thousands (millions?) the previous day in Tehran, the US should promote a message of human rights and should not recognise Ahmadinejad.

WikiLeaks and Iran Document: Why US Diplomats Suspected Fraud in 2009 Election


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¶1. (S) Summary: Syed Salman Safavi, brother of ex-IRGC commander and the Supreme Leader's military advisor Rehman Safavi, on June 16 told London Iran Watcher (Poloff) and a small group of diplomats that "a majority" of leaders within the government of Iran and the IRGC want the United States, while continuing to avoid interference in Iran, to continue and even strengthen its public messages on human rights, so as to support popular protests in Iran and prevent any consolidation of Ahmedinejad's electoral win. Safavi said "a majority" of the IRGC have split from the Basij and from IRGC commander Jafari over the manipulation and aftermath of the June 12 elections. He added that a person he "cannot name, very close to the Supreme Leader," and "working in the Leader's office," conceived and ordered engineering of the election and of attempted suppression which has followed. Safavi claimed no senior clergy other than Mousavi in fact support Ahmedinejad. Safavi offered no compromise solution among contending parties in Iran, and indicated throughout that either Moussavi or Ahmedinejad would be politically vanquished. He explicitly played down the prospect of a "civil war" raised by a European interlocutor. End summary.

2.(S) As in the past (ref), Safavi appeared at the invitation of the Next Century Foundation (NCF), a small UK policy forum NGO enjoying occasional Embassy support; Safavi had just arrived in the UK from Tehran late that same day, June 16. The venue was the residence of the German Political Counselor; besides NCF staff, attendees included Mrs. Safavi, the Norwegian, Spanish, and Japanese embassies and a mid-level Whitehall (UK) diplomat.

Events of June 12 and Afterwards: "A Political Coup"

3. (S) After warning the group against any leaks of his remarks, Safavi characterized events in Iran since June 12 as a "political coup," and said "the Islamic Republic has never faced such a situation. He emphasized it was "not a military coup," since, according to Safavi, there was for the most part no involvement by the great majority of IRGC officers; at the same time, Safavi drew a clear line between the IRGC and the Basij, emphasizing the Basijis' central role in suppression of protestors.

4. (S) Asked for an explanation of events since June 12, Safavi gave a tense, extended narrative that closely resembled reformist narratives, which Poloff and other posts have reported. Safavi said ruling circles on June 12 had fully expected that, due to the political chemistry and excitement generated by the Moussavi-Ahmedinejad debate, Moussavi would emerge a clear winner. The indicia of fraud he listed were similar to what Western observers have cited, but centered on implausible proportions of the vote for Ahmedinejad uniformly throughout Iran and an implausibly fast announcement. Safavi spoke at length on the democratizing effects worldwide and in Iran of digital technology and said the deliberate interruption of SMS services had been a key factor in inhibiting opposition candidates' supporters from effectively monitoring vote compilation at polling centers.

Safavi's Version of the Views of "Traditional" Insiders

5. (S) Of special interest was Safavi's description of the perceptions of persons inside "traditional revolutionary groups." Safavi said this election, Iran's first failed election "after 40 successful elections since the Revolution," had been unique for its "lack of advance clarity." The Iranian electoral norm, according to Safavi, was that all parties' positions and interests are well defined many months in advance, whereas in this case it had not been clear to insiders, according to Safavi, whether one of the major candidates, Karroubi, would even stand two days before the election. Safavi said this atmosphere created a need for certainty, and represented an opportunity for "those who had done this before" (Safavi did not explain this point to the larger group but see para. 10 below). Speaking elliptically, and without drawing a clear line between his points, Safavi said there were additional elements contributing to insiders' "atmosphere of uncertainty" and the motive and opportunity to "once more" manipulate the June 12 results. He said there were splits for the first time among the conservatives themselves, and not just among reformists, but emphasized strongly that "only a minority (of high-level individuals) supported Ahmedinejad, then and now. Safavi said the television debates were a very new factor and that the atmosphere, and insiders' "sense of control....changed completely overnight" after the Moussavi-Ahmedinejad debate; "green appeared everywhere."

Where Senior Clerics Stand

6. (S) He also said the debates produced "an explosion" among the clergy, directed, according to Safavi, against Ahmedinejad. The late replacement of Interior Minister Pir Mohammadi by Ahmedinejad confederate Mahsouli had also been a worrisome event. Also significant, said Safavi in a distinctly positive tone, had been the candid and electrifying remarks in May on Iranian television of Tehran University political scientist Zeba Qolom [Sadegh Zibakalam], who had candidly criticized the government's rejectionist foreign policy vis a vis the United States. Safavi noted very pointedly that, in his view, there is very little senior clerical support for Ahmedinejad; he said "they remember Ahmedinejad attacked them, and only one --- just one --- in Qom supports him," an apparent reference to Ayatollah Mesbah Yazdi.

7. (S) Safavi said the ultimate denouement will be determined by interplay between the Guardian Council as it deliberates on the candidates' petitions for redress, and the Supreme Leader. This deliberation will be set against a background either of acquiescence by the international community and a lessening of the energy behind current protest levels, or of continued pressure and withholding of legitimacy through mass protest and united, sustained international attention. Safavi claimed that opponents of the Ahmedinejad win can settle for nothing less than a "re-vote," that the ballots as cast June 12 are too tainted for a recount now to have value. He said the United States must not recognize Ahmedinejad.

Rafsanjani Said To Be Unwilling to Tolerate A "Third Provocation"

8. (S) Safavi repeatedly underlined what he called Rafsanjani's central role in resisting the "coup" and in backing the three aggrieved candidates. He described the June 12 vote manipulation as "a third provocation" against Rafsanjani and the community he represents. Without naming the specific provocateurs, but saying the same ones are behind the current manipulation of election results, Safavi said Rafsanjani had chosen not to respond to the electoral manipulations which had undercut him in the previous (2005) presidential elections and the 2007 Majles elections, but that he and "those whom this figure not accept a third provocation;" Safavi repeated the phrase at several points in the evening. Safavi twice during the evening provided a detailed description of the IRGC and the original leaders of the 1979 revolution as being &those who really decide the national interest.8 At one point Safavi declared: &Presidents come and go but we remain and we decide what is the interest of the nation and the interest of the revolution.

Safavi Picks the Green Folder

9. (S) Poloff, seated next to Safavi during dinner, offered Dr. and Mrs. Safavi one set apiece of Farsi language versions of President Obama's Cairo speech and his June 15 remarks (during Prime Minister Berlusconi's visit) on Iran: the two document sets were packaged in a green and a blue folder. Safavi hesitated and then said he preferred the blue folder, jestingly remarking that blue is candidate Rezai's color, and handing the green folder to his wife with the comment that "she and all my daughters are green - for Moussavi." Safavi shortly afterwards repeated the jest for the benefit of other guests, this time ostentatiously picking the green folder back from his wife, and remarking loudly "actually everyone now is a Moussavi supporter."

Safavi Points at Jafari, Basij, and "A Person Very Close to the Leader"

10. (S) On the margins of the meeting afterwards, speaking to Poloff and to German Political Counselor Hans Best, Safavi said IRGC commander Jafari has been a principal planner and instigator of election manipulations. Asked about the possible role of Mojtaba Khamenei, Safavi said that "yes, we have serious division;" he said he could not name who in the Supreme Leader's Office was involved, but emphasized "the large majority" of IRGC officers and rank and file "oppose what has happened."

Human Rights

11. (S) In response to points Poloff made, drawing from NSC's June 16 public guidance, on USG concern over violence, possible vote fraud, the unchanging nature of international security concerns, and USG respect and noninterference in Iranian affairs, Safavi immediately and in front of the group asked that USG be very careful not to de-emphasize human rights in its public comments on Iran in the coming days. There was then a lengthy segue, not without irony, into the role human rights should play in U.S. foreign policy in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Israel/Palestine and Central Asia, followed by Safavi's return to a request that the USG keep the human rights and safety of "peaceful Iranian demonstrators" at the center of the USG message.

Safavi praised USG public statements on the elections to date, and agreed the principle of noninterference needs to be constantly repeated, but said the human rights component needed to go "somewhat farther." He argued that a failure to establish a strong and clear signal on human rights would legitimate, and thereby empower, security forces to slowly and quietly crush the current resistance.

Nuclear Engagement: "Cash for Cash"

12. (S) Safavi, asked to comment on prospects for nuclear engagement, politely but immediately dismissed the P5 1 offer as being "not business-like," in that it promises in his view "future U.S. action such as light water reactor or friendly security talks" in exchange for "real action by Iran now -- suspension of enrichment." He then made general remarks about the possibility of "a practical solution," but repeated "it must be business-like" with concrete motivations, and he raised anti-narcotics and anti-terrorism as things "which mean something to Iran -- you must make a real offer." He repeated the mantra "cash for cash" at least four times in describing what in the Iranian view constitutes a "business-like" approach to negotiation.

Personal Disappointment

13. (S/NF) Poloff informed Safavi that, further to Safavi's earlier expressions of interest at traveling to Washington to brief senior U.S. experts and officials (ref), USG officials were aware of his interest in traveling to the United States. As before Poloff offered to support and expedite the application but noted sharp limitations on Poloff's ability to assist; Safavi was visibly disappointed, remarking ruefully he would have to tell people "my Washington connection cannot produce as I wished." Safavi politely noted Poloff's pending departure from post and asked for an introduction to the incoming London Iran Watcher -- Poloff made tentative arrangements for introductions to be made in person on June 30, shortly before Dr. and Mrs Safavi are due to return from the UK to Iran.


14. (S) Well-briefed, smooth, and supremely confident as always, Safavi appeared a consummate and effective salesman, sent to make a case. Though he may have intended throughout the evening to mislead as to his true allegiances, Safavi has in the past in this setting consistently and repeatedly expressed deep contempt for Ahmedinejad and his political supporters (ref). Safavi, whom Poloff has observed in a series of similar small group sessions since 2006 (ref), projected his usual smoothly self-confident, dominating presence, but seemed more internally agitated and ill at ease than in previous meetings. As the dinner broke up, his manner with Poloff on the margins in requesting USG public rhetorical support for demonstrators and human rights principles was (not quite but) almost pleading in tone, and far more urgent and solicitous than anything Poloff had previously heard from him. Safavi had the air less of an impassioned campaigner for human rights, and more of a real party in interest, working to maintain composure and self-assurance even as his prize ox is being gored.

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