Iran’s former foreign minister, Ali Akbar Salehi, will now head the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI) and join president Hassan Rouhani’s administration as a deputy to the president. Interestingly, earlier in the week, Salehi also addressed rumors that the AEOI would be transferred to the Ministry of Energy and operate as one of its branches.
The Iranian president has once again upset religious leaders in Iran. Earlier in the week Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his controversial aid Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei participated in a ceremony of welcoming Norouz, the Persian New year, which falls on March 20. The celebration of Norouz predates both Islam and Christianity and is celebrated by several countries in the Middle East. At the ceremony, a presentation of provincial dances was performed. Ayatollah Lotfollah Safi asked “how can welcoming Norouz be Islamic? Isn’t music and dancing […] that occurred at this ceremony against sacred Islamic laws?” He continued, “they are mocking the commandments of Islam and showing irreverence.” He urged political leaders to take action against this latest celebration by the president, adding that “a system [of government] that has come about through the blood of thousands of martyrs cannot show weakness against these reckless and un-Islamic deeds.” Leaders of the Islamic Republic of Iran have had a difficult relationship with pre-Islamic festivals. The president has been able to capitalize on this issue. Lately he has been using the word “Spring” as a kind of campaign slogan to promote his close aid Mashaei as the next president of Iran. The Persian New Year falls on the first day of spring. On Feb. 25 it was even reported that the mayor of Tehran would forbid the advertisement of “Spring” on billboards and public spaces. In the president’s second term, Mashei deeply angered clerics by appealing to Iranian and pre-Islamic forms of nationalism in various speeches and statements. These public Norouz celebrations appear to be part of the president’s plan to present Mashei to Iranian voters as a counter to the reactionary clerics. In Other News Hassran Rowhani, the Supreme Leader’s representative to Iran’s Supreme National Security Council (SNSC), said in regard to negotiating with America, that if “under conditions that the honor and interests of the country are secured, the Supreme Leader will give permission for negotiations and relations; just as other issues like Iraq, Afghanistan and the nuclear case, where temporary and issue-related negotiations took place.” Rowhani was clarifying remarks made previously by Ayatollah Ali Khamenei about relations with the West and America. A former nuclear negotiator himself and current presidential candidate, Rowhani said that “the Supreme Leader didn’t mean that until Resurrection Day, Iran and America would not negotiate or have relations.” The Supreme Leader implements his nuclear policy through the SNSC. Fereydoon Abassi, Head of Iran’s Energy Atomic Energy Organization, responded to reporters’ questions about the suspension of operations at the Bushehr nuclear power plant, which has received coverage “in internal and foreign press.” Abbasi said yesterday that “Bushehr right now is at a testing stage and has not yet come out of this testing stage, and switching off and on is natural at this stage.” The Bushehr nuclear power plant was started by German companies in 1975. It has since been taken over by Russian companies. Some believe the mixing of the two technologies has led to the extra precautions. Iranian weekly magazine Panjareh (Window) is at the center of a minor controversy that has received considerable attention on social media. According to an editor at Panjareh, due to “unsuitable reactions and comments by readers of disrespect towards the president and the orders of the director in charge this publication was collected (from shops) and a new print with a different cover will be distributed.” The picture on the left was the original cover. The picture on the right is the new updated version. Some believe that the large black-and-white version was unflattering to the president and perhaps that was the reason why it was taken off the shelves. The editor of Panjareh said that there was “no pressure or orders from the government or the judiciary” for this decision, adding that the “articles were not changed.”
Deputy for Basij Affairs and Defensive Culture, Commander Masoud Jazayeri, has commented on foreign forces in Syria. According to the Reformist daily Etemaad, stating that “with the existence of the terrorist actions of the enemies of Syria, the conditions in this country are contrary to what is put forward in the media. It is not only not grave, but normal life in the majority of areas of Syria carries on. The government and people in this time of crisis…The reactionaries of the region and the Zionists, capitalizing on political diplomacy and media diplomacy pretend that Bashar al-Assad’s government is over and the different groups and the Free Army [i.e. Free Syria Army] will soon be ruling, when it must be said explicitly that in fact something by the name of the Free Army does not exist in the way that the enemies state; this army is more the creation of psychological operations”. Jazayeri added, “in case Europe imagines that by supporting some groups and terrorist organizations it will be able to obtain its political objectives, it has inflicted a great blow to itself because without doubt this cultivated and engendered terrorism, one day will bring a calamity about for Europe and America”.
In other news
In reaction to the alleged opening of an official Facebook account in the name of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on the 13th of December, Mehdi Akhavan Behabadi, the Secretary of the Supreme Council for Cyberspace in Iran, has said that membership in Facebook is not a “crime”, but rather “circumventing the filtering system for access to these networks is considered a crime”. However, Akhavan Behabadi insists that he has not seen a statement from the office of the Supreme Leader confirming that the account belongs to the latter, nor has the government taken any decision to stop filtering Facebook.
Hojjat al-Islam Mehdi Mousavi Nejad, the MP for Bushehr has criticized the “negative influence” of Russian women employees at the Bushehr nuclear power plant and has stated that a report will be given to the Majles’ Cultural Commission in this regard. Mousavi Nejad claimed that Russian employees receive a fee for abiding by the Islamic dress code, but that the “principles and standards” [of the latter] were not being properly complied with. Mousavi Nejad even went as far as to call the Russian female employees of Bushehr “corrupting”.
Since Mousavi Nejad’s statement, Deputy Foreign Minister, Hassan Ghashghavi, has rejected the claim that Russian female employees receive a fee for donning the hejab and said it has “absolutely no truth”.
The failure to change the charter of the Social Security Fund and transform it formally into an “organization”, under government purview, as opposed to a body, under the supervision of the Majles, has placed the controversial former judge and Tehran prosecutor, Saeed Mortazavi, in the firing line once again. After the Majles Speaker announced the failure of the government’s plans eight MPs immediately pointed out to the Minister of Labour, that they want the removal of Mortazavi from his current post.
Maverick Principalist MP, Ali Motahhari, has called Mortazavi’s appointment “criminal” if it continues and said that he will decide to pursue the Minister’s impeachment if he does not appoint someone else in Mortazavi’s stead. Motahhari added, “we aren’t bothered with whether the Minister is insignificant and in reality is [acting] under the order of Mr. Ahmadinejad. We say that the removal of Mortazavi is the obligation of the Minister and if he doesn’t have the power for such an act, he must be dismissed”.
Motahhari stated that as a “suspended judge” Mortazavi cannot be legally appointed to a governmental post, and this is not even addressing the numerous allegations which have been made against him following the post-2009 unrest, when he was held responsible for the death of several young Iranians held in Kahrizak detention centre, while Tehran’s Chief Prosecutor.