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Entries in Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (48)


Iran Analysis: Mousavi and Karroubi Answer the Regime --- "Defiance"

Occasionally the analysis is easy.

24 hours ago, we were evaluating the regime's stepped-up threat, through the public declaration of Ayatollah Jannati, "We Will Kill You". We wrote, "This Government, this Supreme Leader has to prevent the mantle of the 1979 Revolution from being wrested from its grip on 22 Bahman (11 February)."

And we watched for a response.

Iran From the Outside: Helping Through “Active Neutrality”
Iran Document: Mousavi-Karroubi Declaration on Rights and 22 Bahman (30 January)
The Latest from Iran (31 January): No Backing Down

We got it within hours. Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi, in a meeting documented by video cameras, issued a declaration that stood upon Karroubi's own stepped-up challenge of the last week and, indeed, harked back to Karroubi's response last autumn to Government warnings of arrest: Bring. It. On.

In their expression of sorrow to the families of Mohammad Reza Ali Zamani and Arash Rahmanipour, the two men executed last week for crimes against national security, Mousavi and Karroubi offered a clever political riposte. They reassured supporters who had criticised the lack of comment over Zamani and Rahmanipour, and they made a connection with the Green Movement even though the executed prisoners were not involved with post-election resistance:
It seems like such actions is only to scare people and discourage them from participating in the 11 February [22 Bahman, anniversary of the 1979 Revolution] rally.

The widespread arrests of the political figures, journalists and academia, charged with protesting to defend their rights, are illegal. The process of obtaining confessions from these prisoners is also in contradiction to Islamic principles and the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran.

Significantly, Mousavi and Karroubi renewed the latter's pointed challenge to Ayatollah Jannati, the head of the Guardian Council who is blamed for betraying the Islamic Republic by giving legitimacy to President Ahmadinejad.

Some in the Green movement will quarrel that Mousavi and Karroubi were unsubtle in declaring their allegiance to the Islamic Republic, "The majority of the people only want to regain their rights and are not seeking to overthrow the system," but this is an obvious strategy. It holds both the "middle ground" of Iranians who may be disillusioned with the Government and even the Supreme Leader but who do not want to put aside the Islamic Republic, and it makes the regime, rather than the opposition, the betrayer of and threat to the highest values of that Republic: "It seems like the rulers are even feeling danger by this voice of the people seeking justice."

And, of course, Mousavi and Karroubi offered the most defiant of responses to a regime which, over recent weeks, has tried to crush the prospect of mass demonstrations on 22 Bahman. To their followers, Mousavi and Karroubi put out the simple message: Join the Rallies. It was a message they did not give on 16 Azar (7 December) or even Ashura (27 December). Now the signal is clear: no more holding back.

Ayatollah Jannati, representing the regime, reviewed the prospects of more arrests, trials, and even executions and shouted, "Do It".

Yesterday, in a quieter but equally forceful manner, Mousavi and Karroubi responded, "Go Ahead. Try and Do It. We Do Not Give Way." Now it remains to be seen not only how the regime but also the Green movement take up that response.

On Friday

The Latest from Iran (29 January): Sideshows and Main Events

2320 GMT: The Committee of Human Rights Reporters has issued a statement on recent allegations against its members, many of whom are detained:
The civil society’s endurance depends on acceptance and realization of modern norms and principles. When a ruling establishment with an outdated legal system tries to impose itself politically and ideologically on a modern society, the result will be widespread protests.

2315 GMT: Correction of the Day. Although it was not widely noted, there were 40th Day memorial ceremonies for Grand Ayatollah Montazeri in Qom.

2310 GMT: Diversion of the Day. From Press TV:
President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's top aide said Friday Tehran is concerned about the direction of the US administration after President Barack Obama delivered his first State of the Union address.

"We have concerns Obama will not be successful in bring change to US policies," Esfandiar Rahim-Mashai, the senior aide to President Ahmadinejad and his chief of staff, said.

With respect, Esfandiar, I don't think President Obama is your biggest concern right now.

NEW Iran Patriotism Special: Wiping the Green From The Flag
Iran Document: Karroubi Maintains the Pressure (28 January)
Iran Document: Resignation Letter of Diplomat in Japan “Join the People”
Iran Document/Analysis: Karroubi’s Statement on the Political Situation (27 January)
Iran Analysis: Leadership in the Green Movement
The Latest from Iran (28 January): Trouble Brewing

2300 GMT: Yawn. Well, we started the day with a sanctions sideshow (see 0650 GMT), so I guess it is fitting to close with one. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, speaking in Paris:
China will be under a lot of pressure to recognize the destabilizing impact that a nuclear-armed Iran would have in the [Persian] Gulf, from which they receive a significant percentage of their own supplies....We understand that right now it seems counterproductive to [China] to sanction a country from which you get so much of the natural resources your growing economy needs....[But China] needs to think about the longer-term implications.

1. The White House is not even at the point of agreeing a sanctions package with the US Congress, let alone countries with far different agendas.
2. China is not going to agree tough sanctions in the UN Security Council. Really. Clinton is blowing smoke.
3. About the only outcome of this will be Press TV running a story on bad America threatening good Iran Government.

2250 GMT: Back after a break (Up In The Air is fantastic --- there, I've said it) to find that the reformist Islamic Iran Participation Front has written an open letter to Iran's head of judiciary, Sadegh Larijani, putting a series of questions over the executions of Mohammad Reza Ali Zamani and Arash Ramanipour.

1820 GMT: We've moved our item on the regime's apparent removal of Green from Iran's flag to a separate entry.

1755 GMT: Today's Pot-Kettle-Black Moment. Just came across a discussion on Press TV of a bill, passed in the US House of Representatives, threatening to block "anti-US" television channels.

Don't get me wrong: this is an incredibly stupid measure, although as Professor William Beeman, the most reflective of the three guests notes, it is a symbolic declaration unlikely to become law. However, I have to note that at no point do the words "Internet filtering", "expulsion/imprisonment of journalists", "jamming of satellite signals" (say, of Voice of America Persian or BBC Persian) come up in the conversation, which also includes a Dr Franklin Lamb and a Dr Seyed Mohammad Marandi.

1750 GMT: The Judiciary v. Ahmadinejad. At insideIRAN, Arash Aramesh has a useful summary of the suspension of the publication Hemmat by Iran's judiciary. The twist is that Hemmat, which ran into trouble for running an attack piece against Hashemi Rafsanjani, is a supporter of the Ahmadinejad Government. No surprise then that the President reportedly declared:
I am not very happy with some of the Judiciary’s actions. Someone published a paper and you shut it down. It is the job of a jury to order the closure of publications. We do not agree with such actions and believe that these actions show a spirit of dictatorship.

However, Aramesh does not connect the Hemmat story to the imprisonment of Mohammad Jafar Behdad (see 1230 GMT), an official in the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance, for four months.

1725 GMT: The Latest from Gohardasht Prison. Peyke Iran reports that 300 Ashura detainees are under severe pressure by Ministry of Intelligence agents, demanding confessions of "mohareb" (war against God), in sections controlled by the Revolutionary Guard.

1700 GMT: The International Committee for Human Rights in Iran has started a new blog. Current posts consider the Zamani/Rahmanipour executions and "Members of Committee of Human Rights Reporters Under Pressure to Make Forced Confessions".

1600 GMT: The Strategy of Deaths. Tehran Prosecutor General Abbas Jafari Doulatabadi has offered details on the regime's handling of executions: having put to death two pre-election detainees to death yesterday, the Government has handed down five more sentences on five people arrested on Ashura (27 December). The sentences are currently being appealed.

Doulatabadi's declaration complements a recent announcement that by Iran Prosecutor General Gholamhosein Mohseni Ejei that at least three Ashura Day detainees will be executed. Ejei also said four more pre-election prisoners had been sentenced to death. (Added to Thursday's executions, Doulatabadi and Ejei's numbers match up to the "eleven" death sentences announced by Iranian state media yesterday.)

1410 GMT: Man, 1) Ayatollah Jannati is in a really bad mood after being verbally slapped by Mehdi Karroubi; 2) the Government is scared of the forthcoming demonstrations on 22 Bahman (11 February); 3) both. The Los Angeles Times offers translated extracts from Jannati's Friday Prayers address (see 1155 GMT) in Tehran:
The prophet Muhammad signed non-aggression pacts with three Jewish tribes. The Jews failed to meet their commitments, and God ordered their massacre (by Imam Ali, the 3rd Imam Shia, despite his reputation for compassion)....When it comes to suppressing the enemy, divine compassion and leniency have no meaning.

The judiciary is tasked with dealing with the detained rioters. I know you well, judiciary officials! You came forward sincerely and accepted this responsibility. You are revolutionary and committed to the Supreme Leader. For God's sake, stand firm as you already did with your quick execution of these two convicts....

God ordered the prophet Muhammad to brutally slay hypocrites and ill-intentioned people who stuck to their convictions. Koran insistently orders such deaths. May God not forgive anyone showing leniency toward the corrupt on earth.

1230 GMT: An Ahmadinejad Official in Jail. Mohammad Jafar Behdad, head of internal media at the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance, has been sentenced to 4 months in prison. Behdad, a former head of the Islamic Republic News Agency, was convicted of disregarding judiciary warnings against provocative publications. His newspaper Hemmat had been suspended for a feature on "Hashemi [Rafsanjani] and his band of brothers".

1220 GMT: Verbal Skirmishes. Retired Revolutionary Guard General Ali Asgari, a former minister in the Khatami Government, has declared that Hashemi Rafsanjani must remain by the side of the Supreme Leader and denounced Rafsanjani's verbal attacker, Ayatollah Mohammad Yazdi, as a radical who defends a backward Islam.

On the regime side, Iran's police chief Esmail Ahmadi-Moghaddam has announced that "some of the elite are against the regime and with the enemy". At the same time, he appears to have held out a hand to Mir Hossein Mousavi, saying he "was deceived" by these wrong-doers.

1210 GMT: The "Real" Karroubi Interview. Fars News, whose distorted report on Mehdi Karroubi's views inadvertently moved Karroubi's challenge to the Ahmadinejad Government centre-stage, makes another clumsy intervention today.

Selecting extracts from Karroubi's interview with Britain's Financial Times and quoting them out of context, Fars declares that Karroubi has "100%" backed the Supreme Leader and denounced protesters.

Yeah, right.

1155 GMT: Your Tehran Friday Prayer Summary. Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati, the head of the Guardian Council, had the podium today. Given that Mehdi Karroubi knocked him about a bit yesterday, Jannati was probably not in the most conciliatory of moods as he said:
Weakness in the face of events such as the "irreverence" of demonstrations on Ashura will undermine the regime. Ayatollah [Sadegh] Larijani, be a man, get tough, bring in some protesters. (Hey, but it was pretty cool that you executed those two guys yesterday to please God.)

1140 GMT: A very slow day, both for sideshows and main events. During the lull, this comment from a reader to Andrew Sullivan's Daily Dish, reacting to the Zamani/Rahmanipour executions, is striking:
You see the strategy is an obvious one: start with the people who are the weakest links, some obscure monarchist group and not directly related to the reformist/Mousavi's camp or the greens, that way it would make it harder politically for [Mir Hossein] Mousavi or [Mehdi] Karoubi to defend them. Then they will advance. This is, in their mind, also the best way to send a message about Feb 11th that if you are arrested on that day, you could be executed. The combination of desperation and cruelty.

0750 GMT: Remembering Montazeri. Video of the bazaar at Najafabad, the birthplace of Grand Ayatollah Montazeri, was empty on Thursday to mark the passing of the cleric in late December. Memorials for the "40th Day" of Montazeri's death were planned for both yesterday and today.)

0650 GMT: There are a number of obstacles to clear this morning before getting to the important developments. Foremost amongst these is last night's news that the US Senate, the upper house of the Congress, has approved tougher sanctions against Iran. The focus is on petroleum, denying loans and other assistance from American financial institutions to companies that export gasoline to Iran or help expand its oil-refining capacity. The penalties would extend to companies that build oil and gas pipelines in Iran and provide tankers to move Iran’s petroleum. The measure also prohibits the United States Government from buying goods from foreign companies that do business in Iran’s energy sector.

Even if sanctions are central to a resolution of Iran's political crisis, as opposed to their place in the manoeuvres over Iran's nuclear programme --- personally, I don't think they are --- there is a lot of bureaucratic road to cover before they are in place. The Senate has to agree its version of the bill with the House of Representatives. More importantly (and The New York Times story ignores this point), the Obama Administration so far has opposed the petroleum measures because they are unlikely to be effective. The White House and State Department prefer "targeted" sanctions, aimed especially at economic interests of bodies like the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps.

Then there is the Washington sideshow of Very Important People battering each other in the guise of offering the Very Best US Policy on Iran. The Washington Post announces the boxing match between Richard Haass, formerly of the State Department and now head of the Council for Foreign Relations, and the Flynt/Hillary Leverett duo, formerly of State and the National Security Council. The punches are entirely predictable --- Haass, while proclaiming himself a "realist", has joined the chorus of US experts singing of "regime change", while the Leveretts are staunchly defending the legitimacy of the Iran Government --- and pretty much swatting air when it comes to the complexities of the Iranian situation. (But Haass was best man at the Leveretts' wedding, which turns a marginal story into a "quirky" one.)

So where are the significant stories? Well, there is yesterday's execution of two detainees, Mohammad Reza Ali Zamani and Arash Rahmanipour, who were jailed in April 2009 for endangering Iran's national security. In one sense, this is another sideshow. Obviously, neither Zamani and Rahmanipour were involved in post-election protest and the "monarchist" group to which they allegedly belonged is not significant in the Green movement.

However, the regime was far from subtle in linking the hangings of the two men to the demonstrations of Ashura (27 December), and that linkage --- inadvertently --- displays its fear of the forthcoming marches on 22 Bahman/11 February, the anniversary of the 1979 Revolution. What's more, by promising the executions of nine more detainees if everyone didn't just shut up and go away, the Government made a risky commitment. Either it goes ahead with the executions, making more martyrs for the protests, or it backs down.

And then there is The Week of Mehdi Karroubi, with the cleric launching another broadside against President Ahmadinejad and his allies yesterday. Some media continue to be led astray by confusion over Karroubi's loud and emerging strategy --- The New York Times, for example, mis-reads Karroubi's latest statement as "conciliatory remarks...shifting the blame for the violent postelection crackdown away from Ayatollah Khamenei".

They are not. Karroubi is both giving the Supreme Leader (or "Mr Khamenei", as he was labelled on Monday) a chance and setting him a test: do what you are supposed to do under our Constitution and Islamic Republic, Supreme Leader, and make your President accountable for injustices and abuses.

Enjoy all the sideshows, folks, but in this political circus, that's your centre-ring main event.

Iran Patriotism Special: Wiping the Green From The Flag

Yesterday we noted that the Iran flag had morphed from Red, White, and Green into Red, White, and Blue in a speech by President Ahmadinejad to officials:

I thought this might have been a production slip-up, with the Iranian flag melting away into the sky, but now a 2nd photo has emerged, from Ahmadinejad's introduction of the new head of the Islamic Republic News Agency:

Golnaz Esfandiari of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty has more on the story.

Iran Document: Karroubi Maintains the Pressure (28 January)

Yet another forthright declaration comes from Mehdi Karroubi in an interview with his website Saham News today, following his detailed statement to a British newspaper on Wednesday.

In case anyone is still unclear, Karroubi hammers home the message: Ahmadinejad is an illegitimate and irresponsible "President". And those who back him, not those who oppose him, have betrayed the Islamic Republic. (Supreme Leader, what say you?)

Translation from the Facebook page supporting Mir Hossein Mousavi, and passed on by The Flying Carpet Institute:

SAHAM: Mr. Karroubi, Recently there was news from you regarding the status of Ahmadinejad’s administration that was followed by different interpretations. The most important interpretation that bothered many people was the idea of your retreat from and overturning of your position after the election. Did your remark mean retreating and entering a new phase?

Iran Document/Analysis: Karroubi’s Statement on the Political Situation (27 January)
Latest Iran Video: When Karroubi Met Fars (25 January)
Iran & Karroubi: Why This is “Much Ado About Something”
The Latest from Iran (28 January): Trouble Brewing

KARROUBI: It is really strange for me that the experts misunderstood my clear and blunt remark. I ask the experts to pay attention to the introduction and conclusion of my remark.

I have emphasised my criticism over the problems with the election and its results which were the outcome of fraud and engineering OF the votes and continue to do so. However, Mr. Ahmadinejad is the head of the administration, whom despite all the protests has taken the power in the Executive Branch and thus must be accountable for his actions. Currently everyone, inside and outside [the country], in favour of him or in opposition, calls him the head of the establishment’s administration, meaning the one who controls the Executive Branch. Therefore, they demand [from him] that which s the responsibility of the head of the Executive Branch.

This is not something new and does not mean retreating from the previous position at all. This is just like other countries that, when someone takes the power, regardless of how, he/she is called with the relevant title. The protestors’ and my criticism about the legitimacy of this power is still intact, and I still believe that the people’s right to determine their fate was ignored in the 10th presidential election. If the election had been held correctly and the Guardian Council had really safeguarded the constitution, the outcome would have been different and the country and people would not have paid such cost. As I have said before, since this administration has not risen from the people’s vote, it cannot continue with its work.

SAHAM: You criticized the Guardian Council but Mr. Jannati [Ayatollah Jannati, head of the Guardian Council] in his latest remarks, has said that the Islamic Republic conducted one of the healthiest elections. He called the claim of fraud in election by people inside and outside the country ridiculous and stupid and said those people have sold themselves and have committed a betrayal that no one has done before. What is your opinion about these remarks that are a clear insult to this country’s nation and its senior figures?

KARROUBI: I read Mr. Jannati’s remarks too.

It is close to thirty years that Mr. Jannati [Editor: Note Karroubi, like the questioner, uses "Mr Jannati", diminishing Jannati's clerical status] has been in the Guardian Council and for many years he has been the General Secretary of this council and has had a decisive role there.

The talent of Mr. Jannati and his friends has been to turn the legal stature of this council to this pitiful situation. He considers the claims of fraud in election ridiculous and calls it betraying the country, but who is that does not know the one who betrayed this revolution, the martyr’s blood, Imam [Khomeini], and the dear people of Iran is he himself that has brought the country and the revolution to a point that even funerals are held with the presence of the riot police and plainclothes militia?

Pre-approving candidates in the elections and extensively disqualifying this country’s experts in various elections such as for the Assembly of Experts, the Parliament and the Presidential election, making up results as they please, and even changing results after the announcement of them are some of his talents. These betrayals are not only evident to him but also to the people.

Mr. Jannati, today the cry of Iranian people is the response to your betrayal of the people’s votes, the Constitution and Imam Khomeini’s and martyrs’ ideas by making the principle of the election meaningless and slaughtering the Republic.

Iran Document/Analysis: Karroubi's Statement on the Political Situation (27 January) 

Britain's Financial Times has published a lengthy interview with Mehdi Karroubi. The full interview, covering Karroubi's political involvement from 1979 to the present, is well worth a read, but these extracts get to the heart of Karroubi's current move for reform and his challenge to the Ahmadinejad Government.

The cleric's comments appear to provide clarity on his proposed resolution, after his statement on Monday put him back in the centre of events: 1) once again, the call is for unity between "conservatives" and "reformists", working within the Iranian system to remedy injustices and to ensure that the Constitution is upheld; 2) Ahmadinejad must go; 3) the man who needs to ensure this is the Supreme Leader.

"Conservatives" like Ali Larijani, what say you? Ayatollah Khamenei, your response and agreement, please?


FT: How do you feel now when you see your opponents call for your prosecution or try to put you back in Evin, the same jail you were in before the revolution?

MK: I have mixed feelings. One is that of sorrow. I feel sad to see some of those in jail now are the children of the revolution and had spent years in the Shah’s prisons. They have served the Islamic establishment for years.

I wonder what has happened to the revolution? It was supposed to spread its umbrella and attract even its opponents. The revolutionary circle was not supposed to be this tight that even its children are not tolerated. This makes me sad.

I believe in reform, which means to have the Islamic republic we promised during the revolution. I am committed to the promises of providing independence and freedom and establishing the Islamic Republic.

We promised to respect people’s rights, give them freedom. We said if our opponents did not resort to guns and conspiracies, they could freely express their opinions and criticise the regime. These promises have been seriously damaged.

FT: But your opponents say these acts are aimed at overthrowing the regime.

MK: We do not want to make another revolution and do not seek to overthrow the regime. We are attached to the real Islamic republic, the one we promised to people which was approved by 98 per cent of the people [in a 1979 referendum].

You can see republicanism within Islam and you can see Islam within republicanism. I have put my young-hood, life and motivations to this belief. If one day the Islamic republic is taken away from me, I would feel emptied.

One cannot spend decades for a cause and then conclude it was a waste of time. So, the Islamic revolution and the Islamic republic are the principles. Of course, this doesn’t mean we are denying weaknesses and shortcomings.

FT: What has happened that the children of the Islamic society who founded it are now accused of trying to destroy it?

MK: It is because neither the Islamic part of the Islamic republic has been paid the attention it deserved, nor the Republican part.

The republicanism necessitated free elections in which the criteria had to be people’s votes. In other words, people are the final decision-makers. Islamic republic means state organisations and military bodies should not interfere in elections to damage the republicanism side of the regime as is happening now.

On the other hand, Islamism of the system has been hurt. It means Islamic is presented in a very superficial way in discussions while superstitious and illusionary beliefs are spread.

Islam is not restricted to prayer and fasting. Respecting people, not humiliating them, and observing their rights are other major parts of Islam to attract followers not to dispel them.

We say a political current has been created which is weakening republicanism on one side because it doesn’t believe in votes and is undermining Islam.

FT: How could they become so strong and sweep to power?

MK: In sum, some power centres helped them to take control of some economic, political and cultural centres.

Those who believed in putting Islam in a tight framework have swept to power and have expanded their belief to republicanism. How they managed to do so cannot be discussed now.

Some immature acts in the first decade of the revolution – a period we are proud of – could be justified for a newly established system which had just got out of the Shah’s corrupt system and was struggling with a war with Iraq.

But even at the time Imam Khomeini believed security forces should not search for drugs if they go to an opponent’s house to confiscate his weapons. Now, family albums are searched.

Imam Khomeini believed some rogue acts in foreign policies, judicial matters and financial issues like confiscations of people’s properties had to stop after a certain period.

FT: How much do you blame Mr Ahmadi-Nejad himself for the recent political turmoil?

MK: Both Mr Ahmadi-Nejad himself and the political current behind him are very guilty for recent developments. Mr Ahmadi-Nejad is surely not alone. There is a group behind him who have a lot of influence on him.

The group working with him is neither left nor right. Traditional lefties and righties believe in serious competition while keeping friendship. But this trend doesn’t believe in this kind of relationship.

FT: Do you see Mr Ahmadi-Nejad and his backers as a risk to the Islamic republic?

MK: They are not a risk in a sense that they are hand-in-hand with foreigners. I would not say that, because it needs to be proved.

But isolating associations, thoughts, students, academics and the reform-minded clergy is really worrisome. Look at how [badly] the press, students, prisoners and students and even the senior clergy are treated.

FT: Are you worried that such behaviour could cause the collapse of the Islamic republic?

MK: These behaviours have made damages and will strike more blows but would not lead to the overthrow of the regime.

I believe the Islamic revolution has strong roots. It is true that the Islamic regime has opponents, but the roots of Islam, the revolution and the Islamic republic are deep. I also believe there are still many power centres, including political, non-political and religious institutions, which can stop the trend of radicalism.

Many senior clerics are unhappy with the current situation. They would not tolerate when they see serious damages are being made. They will surely stop it.

FT: Do you think the government of Mr Ahmadi-Nejad can finish its four-year term? Is there any chance it might be dismissed?

MK: When similar comments were made about the first four-year term of Mr Ahmadi-Nejad, I never agreed and insisted he would finish his term. It happened.

Considering the political and economic problems plus a controversial foreign policy, I personally believe Mr Ahmadi-Nejad would not be able to finish his term.

Look at the way he runs the country. He presented the budget to the parliament only yesterday [Jan 17] which is too late.

I want to say that from cultural, foreign policy, economic, management and security points of view, the government has serious problems. Taking all these problems into consideration, I think the government cannot survive.

FT: How much have the street protests against the government added to your doubts about the government’s survival?

MK: This is one of the problems. The government was unable to act logically, hold healthy elections and set up a group to study protests over the election. If the government were far-sighted, these problems would not have been created.

FT: Are the moderate forces of both sides getting close to each other to save the Islamic republic? And do they believe that one solution could be to dismiss the government?

MK: This week, Mr [Akbar] Hashemi-Rafsanjani [former president] once again said that moderate forces from both sides should get together and find a solution. He rightly said the best person who could help this happen is the supreme leader [Ayatollah Ali Khamenei]. I agree with him.

The forces from both sides who care about the Islamic system will join forces when they see, God forbid, the revolution, the system and the Islamic republic are at stake. This will happen quite soon.

FT: How soon?

MK: I don’t know how long it will take, but I think it won’t take too long. Look at certain indices: inflation, stagnation of the economy, closure of economic centres, in particular industrial units, which are working with 20 or 40 per cent of their capacities, increasing unemployment, poverty line standing at 7m rials ($700) which means above 40 per cent of people are poor.

The continuation of this situation will create problems. The government is unable to tackle the problems and does not have the capability [to]. Look how many times the government changed its interior and economy ministers.

FT: If such a meeting of moderate forces is convened in the not-too-distant future as you say, what would be your vote? Would you insist that Mr Ahmadi-Nejad should go? Or will you compromise and give legitimacy to his government?

MK: It will all depend on what kind of discussions and options are raised. One option would be to reshuffle the cabinet by which not all the cabinet members but those who are inefficient are changed and [the president’s] interferences in ministries are stopped.

Mr Ahmadi-Nejad says one thing every day and creates problems for the country. What I’m seeking is an efficient government.

But knowing this man, I believe he would not change his behaviour.

FT: So, you recognise the government and have retreated from your earlier position that this government is not legitimate?

MK: Whatever I said about the election is still valid and, I repeat, it was not a healthy poll.

But the truth is that the parliament has voted for him and he was sworn in. But I assure you the same parliamentarians who won the election because over 2,000 reformists were disqualified by the Guardian Council [the constitutional watchdog], are ready to remove Mr Ahmadi-Nejad in one month if they put aside some considerations and cautiousness.

FT: You used to say this government was illegal and illegitimate. Now you want to make the cabinet more efficient or restrict Mr Ahmadi-Nejad?

MK: What I said is that if a group sits together, which was your question, they will decide whether Mr Ahmadi-Nejad should go or stay. I cannot decide on my own what should happen to him.

If the majority in such a meeting says he should stay and change his behaviour, I cannot oppose this. But I personally say this man does not have the capacity to continue. The oil revenues Iran earned under his presidency – about $350bn – were extraordinary.

FT: What you are saying now is quite similar to what Mr Moussavi and Mr Khatami said recently. Does this mean the opposition leaders have decided to make a compromise because they see the future of Islamic republic at stake?

MK: My personal view is that the government is incapable and does not have the votes of the people. But it is the government with which we have problems. I think the government should go, but if others don’t say so, I cannot push for it.

The country’s problems will get worse and no choice will be left [for the regime] but to find a solution.

But the truth is there is no news yet that the other side seeks a solution. The other side still thinks the post-election event was “sedition”. They believe things are going back to normal and the so-called sedition is being put off.

FT: As I said, this was not your position before, that the government could go through some changes?

MK: What did I say before? That the Islamic republic should go?

FT: No. But you were refusing to recognise the government. Now you say the parliament has sworn him in.

MK: You say what is the solution and I say it’s not only with me. We should first accept to sit together and talk.

FT: The factors you cited that the government would not survive all existed in the first four- year term of the government as well. It survived last time. Why shouldn’t the government finish its term this time?

MK: You have a strong body but you can be weakened following incidents and illnesses. The Islamic republic has paid enormously for these four or five years of Mr Ahmadi-Nejad. It does not have further strength.

What happened in the presidential election [in June] had happened in the previous presidential election [in 2005] and the last two parliamentary polls. But the pent-up anger showed itself in an explosion this time. Such things don’t happen overnight.

The hefty oil revenues have been a good cover so far. Now, the banks’ overdue payments have exceeded $40bn. It is similar to a strong body which could bear hardships for a limited period. That body is weak now.

FT: Demonstrators first targeted Mr Ahmadi-Nejad in their street protests after the election. But as you know that it’s been quite some time that the whole system and the supreme leader have been targets. People now call for a secular state. What do you think?

MK: I think these slogans are 100 per cent wrong and won’t bear any fruits. I am even suspicious of such slogans and don’t know if it’s truly by the youth who are emotional and immature or by certain [power] centres try to make people over-react and then use it as an excuse for suppression.

Our slogans are within this system and this constitution. Our constitution has some weaknesses but has lots of [democratic] capacities.

FT: Why don’t you tell your supporters not to chant the slogans?

MK: I do tell them. A small number of people chanted “Neither Gaza, nor Lebanon, My life is for Iran”. You saw how much it was misused by the other side. Some wise people believed the slogan should have been “Both Gaza and Lebanon, My life is for Iran”.

FT: What’s your position on the supreme leader?

MK: I accept velayat-e faghih [the rule of supreme jurisprudent envisaged in the constitution]. I accept the Islamic republic and I accept the constitution. I don’t agree with slogans that call for changing power structures.

FT: Your allies are arrested. Your office and newspaper were shut down. What are your plans now?

MK: As far as it’s been possible, I have continued. But I feel sad that many of my friends are in jail. My pride is hurt that the Islamic republic has reached a point that it arrests its ministers, lawyers, vice-presidents, deputy ministers, governor generals and journalists. These people served the revolution for many years and were in jail under the Shah.

As for the limitations on me, I feel under semi-house arrest. The [state] policy is not to pay the price for putting me under an official house arrest. But in the meantime as soon as I have some kind of meeting somewhere, a group of basijis are dispatched to disrupt the gatherings.

I release statements and have some meetings with families of political prisoners. I do work to some extent. But these limitations are behind the radicalisation of slogans which I don’t agree with. Too much pressure backfires. When you hurt people, they chant radical slogans.

FT: Aren’t you worried that the gap between you and people might be widened now that you say their slogans are wrong?

MK: I back people but don’t want to cheat them. I tell them that we have reforms and believe in your freedom.

I have said repeatedly that people are their own leader. I’ve said many times that we are not leading the movement. People are protesting against the way they are treated. They feel humiliated. Iranians don’t accept to be dictated. They might tolerate for some time, but then they explode.

The most important factor behind Imam Khomeini’s success was that he valued people and respected their votes.

Yes, people are ahead of me. Being ahead means they are more determined and more prepared to achieve their rights without having any personal ambitions. Look at how women demonstrate sacrifice.

My agreement or disagreement with the regime wouldn’t have much impact on these people. The regime should be wise to find a solution and clear the mess to prevent further radicalisation.

People would take it positively if their demands are addressed and if free political debates are held in press.

FT: Do you think people now want to overthrow the regime?

MK: A majority of people do not want to overthrow the regime. In fact, anyone who cares about the future of this country is not after toppling the regime because it is not clear what would come out of it. If it was not thanks to the extraordinary leadership skills of Imam Khomeini, God knows what would have happened to Iran with the 1979 revolution.

We have to try to protect this system and the Islamic republic that we had promised should come into reality. In that case, the majority of people would be happy. We have to sit and see where the loopholes are and correct them.

FT: But your opponents say this is in fact an act of overthrowing the system.

MK: They wrongly say it is because they say that the US and Britain support us ,therefore we are wrong. And that the BBC supports us. BBC did the same during the 1979 revolution [backing the revolution].

We are neither after overthrowing the regime, not are its opponents. We are against monopolies, dictatorship and short-mindedness which would discredit Islam.

FT: Do you see Mr Moussavi regularly?

MK: Yes. We exchange views quite regularly.

FT: Do you co-ordinate policies?

MK: Yes and no. Mr Moussavi and his allies have certain views. The same is with me and my allies.

FT: Do you agree with his suggestions to end the political crisis?

MK: Yes, largely.

FT: Is there any sign that those suggestions are taken seriously by the regime?

MK: There is no sign yet.

FT: What about Mr Khatami?

MK: I see him less than Mr Moussavi.

FT: Why?

MK: That’s the way it is now. Mr Khatami does not release statements as we do.

FT: How about Mr Rafsanjani? How do you assess his role now?

MK: He should be assessed within his own framework. The favour he has done to us is that he has not condemned us even though he has been under a lot of pressure to do so.

He will have a significant role if there is supposed to be consensus one day. No one else could play his role between reformists and fundamentalists because of his background in the revolution and the role he played in choosing the supreme leader. He also holds two important positions at the Experts Assembly and the Expediency Council. He is able to do things that none of the elites in either sides can do.

FT: Is Mr Rafsanjani still waiting for the right time to come to intervene?

MK: I think he is under a lot of pressure and attacks in the media not to play any mediating role. The radicals know he can do certain things that we are not able to do.

Mr Rafsanjani threw his weight behind Mr Khatami [in 1997 presidential election] and Mr Moussavi [in June election].

FT: Will you attend the February 11 rally [to commemorate the revolution victory]?

MK: Definitely.

FT: You might be attacked. Your car was only recently shot.

MK: I was not scared at all. I was so calm. Thank God, my spirit is so high. I even welcome any risks to my life. I love to live like every human being and when you get older you feel more attached to your family and grandchildren.

This, however, does not stop me to go into the middle of crowd and travel around with sometimes a crappy car, as my wife complains [laughing].

FT: It is not always a question of risk to your life. As you know the nephew of Mir-Hossein Moussavi [the top opposition leader] was killed recently. Do you have any fears for your family?

MK: Without any exaggeration, I can say I have no fears. This is because I strongly believe in my ideas. My sons are now old and have white beards [laughing]. The youngest son is 31 years old. What can I do? Let them kill anyone they like?

FT: Last question: you created a storm by raising rape and torture in prisons and you came under a lot of pressure. Did that make any difference?

MK: Prisoners say their situation has improved a lot. I have no regrets for raising it, because I didn’t say the regime was systematically doing it. But there was some carelessness that I wanted to stop.