Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Rafsanjani Elected as Speaker of Assembly of Experts in Iran

It has emerged that former Iranian President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani has been elected as speaker of the Assembly of Experts, a group whose key role is to supervise Iran's Supreme Leader. The BBC reports:

Mr Rafsanjani will succeed Ayatollah Ali Meshkini, who died in July.

Correspondents say the appointment further consolidates the authority of Mr Rafsanjani, who is already a powerful figure in Iranian politics.

Considered a "pragmatic conservative", Mr Rafsanjani's victory will also be seen as a blow to Iran's hardline president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

The BBC's Jon Leyne in Tehran says there is now a clear divide in Iranian politics between supporters of Mr Rafsanjani and those of Mr Ahmadinejad, and a complex power struggle is being carried out behind the scenes.

This development is crucial to the future of Iran. The panel itself has a big say in who will become the next Supreme Leader, where the real power is held in Iran (see post on Ten Percent for more detail on the make-up of the Iranian constitution). Although Rafsanjani is still a conservative, he is more open to the West and Russia. He has also taken a more cautious approach than Ahlmadinejad with respect to the nuclear issue. This has lead to somewhat of an internal struggle between the more moderate forces that Rafsanjani represents and the hardline faction behind Ahlmadinejad.

A military attack at this point would be foolish in the extreme. Given that much of Ahlmadinejad's rhetoric is based on the idea that the West is eager to strike at Iran, any military action would have very serious consequences. A military strike would shore up Ahlmadinejad's support and make it harder to win support from the Iranian people. The growth in influence of Rafsanjani is an opportunity for the West to resolve this situation peacefully without resorting to the high number of civilian casualties that would undoubtedly result from any attack. At this time, it would be wise of the West to remain cautious in response to developments in Iran. As Rafsanjani's influence increases, the more likely it is that his faction will see off the hardliners that back the current Iranian President. The chance of a peaceful resolution is in the offing. The question is, will the West take it.