Statements reportedly made by Ayatollah Hashemi Rafsanjani blaming “a government” for the chemical weapons attack in Syria have received considerable coverage, both in Iranian and foreign media, forcing Rafsanjani’s personal website to issue a statement on the matter.
According to Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s granddaughter at a meeting in North Tehran on Friday, Rafsanjani said, “A government that uses chemical bombs against its people will face hard consequences, just like Saddam, who earned eternal shame in the bombing of Halabja and suffered such a horrible fate.” These comments solely place blame on a government whereas most Iranian officials have either generally condemned chemical weapons use and some have blamed the rebels.
However, Reza Soleimani, head of public relations for the Expediency Council, which Rafsanjani chairs, denied that Rafsanjani made these comments. According to Fars News, Soleimani said, “The positions of Rafsanjani on Syria, Palestine and Lebanon are clear and cannot be altered with one rumor.”
Today, according to Iranian Labor News Agency (ILNA), Rafsanjani made more controversial comments on Syria in a city in Mazandaran province. The original ILNA article quoted Rafsanjani as saying, “The people have been attacked with chemical weapons from their own government and now they must wait for an attack by foreigners.”
Later, however, the ILNA article changed the quote to, “The people have been attacked by chemical weapons and now they must wait for an attack by foreigners.” Before ILNA changed the quote, a Freezepage link of the original article was taken.
Rafsanjani was attacked by hard-line Jahan news for the comments that chemical weapon were used at all. “These are exactly a repeat of the lies from the leaders of the White House and Tel Aviv that not even the United Nations has confirmed,” said the article titled “Hashemi’s Unbelievable Statements Confirming the Claims of Syria’s Enemies!” In Iran, Rafsanjani is often referred to as Hashemi.
The article warned Rafsanjani from taking a different position with respect to Syria. “Public opinion has serious expectations that Rafsanjani reflect and evaluate his position and quickly make it in alignment with the realities of the region and Syria,” the article wrote, “Otherwise, these types of comments will be followed by the wrath of supporters of the resistance domestically and in the region.”
Rafsanjani’s personal website issued a statement today about these comments, saying, “Expressing unofficial or extreme positions from unrelated individuals must be avoided,” adding that the “positions of the system must be expressed through official and responsible channels.”
In comparison to many other officials, Rafsanjani’s comments on Syria have been moderate, addressing the suffering of the Syrian people. According to both versions of ILNA, Rafsanjani said, “In these two years the people of Syria have seen much damage, the prisons are overflowing and they have converted stadiums into prisons, more than 100,000 have been killed.” According to Kalame, on Friday, Rafsanjani also said, “The people of Syria for two years have witnessed the sacrifice of their loved ones, the destruction of their homes and displacement. We have to show the world a path [toward] peace, moderation and rationality.”
A journalist in Iran told Al-Monitor that the controversy over Rafsanjani’s comments are such that “they give him a hard time and his office denies it. If they don’t give him a hard time, he doesn’t deny it.” By “they” the journalist is referring to hard-liners in Iran who have over the years attempted to sideline Rafsanjani.
Saeed Aganji, a former journalist in Iran, believes that Rafsanjani’s comments are an attempt to decrease tensions in the region. “He takes these positions so that each of the commanders of Sepah [Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps] does not give his own opinion so that conflict is not created between countries.” The heads of the Revolutionary Guard and Iran’s military have taken a harder line with respect to Syria and a US attack. Rafsanjani’s comments about rapprochement with the West and the 2009 election protests have made him a favorite target of hard-line media in Iran.