The Return of Rafsanjani


Editor’s Note: At time of publishing of this article, Rafsanjani was actually the first deputy chairman of the Assembly of Experts. He won the most votes of all candidates in the December 2006 election for the assembly. On September 4, 2007, he became the chairman.

Is Iran headed toward a more moderate future? Following elections for the assembly in December, Former Iranian President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani became the head of Iran’s 85-member Assembly of Experts, the body that elects the supreme leader and which has the most influence in the nation.

In addition, with the ayatollah apparently in failing health, and speculation that President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad could be out of favor with the clerical establishment, Rafsanjani could soon become even more influential in the Islamic Republic.

The renewed popularity of Rafsanjani, who is seen by many as a pragmatic, more moderate leader, may be viewed by some as a positive sign that Iran will take a path more aligned with U.S. interests in the future. In truth, Rafsanjani will do nothing to change Iran’s goals in the region and beyond—but rather may well speed up their fulfillment. For, while Rafsanjani’s persona actually hides an American-hating, terrorist-supporting cleric, that persona could make it easier for the United States to do a deal over Iraq, making an eventual exit more politically acceptable.

“The restoration of Rafsanjani to the presidency would be welcomed by officials in Washington, who see the former Iranian leader as someone whom they can engage in serious negotiations,” Stratfor reported January 5.

Such a scenario would be to Tehran’s advantage only, however. For as Stratfor asserted, despite losses for the conservative faction in December’s election, no Iranian foreign policy shift will result. “… Ahmadinejad’s losses in both elections [municipal and Assembly of Experts] will not cause any major shift in Tehran’s nuclear program or its policy toward Iraq” (Dec. 22, 2006).

The U.S. would be dealing with the same beast, only in a more sophisticated guise. The so-called moderates and the hardliners in Iran have precisely the same ambitions for their nation: domination of the Middle East, development of nuclear power, and the downfall of America. The nation’s agenda is set by the clerical establishment, and the various political factions and personalities are used to achieve the same ends.

In any case, even a cursory glance at Rafsanjani’s history does not reveal a moderate man. Rafsanjani was a pillar of the 1979 Iranian Islamic Revolution before becoming president a decade later, at which point he actively and openly supported terrorism around the world and spent billions to rebuild Iran’s military. Under his watch, Iran acquired missiles and nuclear hardware and stockpiled chemical weapons.

As for how he really feels about America, he stated this in a 2003 interview: “Even though the United States has a physical presence in the countries that surround us, the reality is that the United States is in fact surrounded by Iran. … Our enemies such as Saddam, the Taliban and the Monafeghins [an Iranian opposition group] have been swept out of our way, and soon the U.S. will be too” (Agence France Presse, Sept. 11, 2003; emphasis ours).

Concerning Iran’s nuclear program, Rafsanjani declared the need for an “Islamic bomb” in a speech at Tehran University five years ago. In 2005, he said Iran would never abandon its nuclear program. And last year, he vocally supported Ahmadinejad’s stance in rejecting the United Nation’s demand that Iran halt its nuclear program.

As wrote in November 2005, a few months into Ahmadinejad’s presidency: “Even should the public image of the republic change with a new leader at some point, the real power will remain with the ruling religious regime. In fact, because Ahmadinejad is so radical in his approach and rhetoric, he would make any more opportunistic conservative—such as Rafsanjani—appear positively moderate to the West by comparison. Should someone like Rafsanjani gain power sometime in the future, one could easily envisage the U.S. welcoming such a leader with open arms. But again, the danger to the West would be the same.”