TEHRAN (IPS) ó Charges of spying for Britain persisting against former nuclear negotiator Hossein Mousavian appear to have intensified rifts within the alliance of conservatives and hardliners that made Mahmoud Ahmadinejad Iran’s president more than two years ago. Mousavian, who was a deputy of the Supreme National Security Council and a member of Iran’s nuclear negotiation team during Mohammad Khatami’s presidency, was arrested on May 1 and charged by the intelligence ministry with espionage and passing on information concerning Iran’s nuclear program to foreigners. An outspoken critic of Ahmadinejad’s nuclear policy, Mousavian is close to Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani and has close political affiliations with conservatives. At the time of his arrest he was a deputy of the Strategic Research Centre of Ahmadinejad’s main political opponent Hashemi Rafsanjani, who is chief of the powerful Expediency Council. Eight days after his arrest, Mousavian was released on moderate bail and has since kept his silence on the charges that led to his arrest. He has not made any statements about his case even after Judiciary Force spokesman Alireza Jamshidi announced on Nov. 27 a court decision to clear him of charges of spying and being in possession of classified documents. The same court that cleared him of those charges found him guilty of anti-system propaganda but decided to suspend sentencing. Under Iranian law the decision of the court to suspend the sentence on charges of anti-system propaganda has to be confirmed by the prosecutor of the Revolutionary and Public courts or prosecution will continue. The decision of the court was in fact overruled immediately by Tehran’s hardline prosecutor, Saeed Mortazavi. In a statement released shortly after the announcement of the court verdict Mortazavi ordered continuation of Mousavian’s prosecution. Ahmadinejad himself has repeatedly alleged that the judge handling Mousavian’s case has been under pressure to acquit him. “I insist that secrets given to the foreigners (by Mousavian) be made public,” he told reporters following the announcement of the verdict. “Ten days before the court verdict was delivered Ahmadinejad threatened to expose those who were pressuring the judge to acquit him. His intelligence minister repeated the charges shortly after that. Pro-Ahmadinejad students demanded that the judiciary be ‘at the government’s beck and call,'” a reformist politician in Tehran told IPS. “They obviously knew the court had reached a decision and all the fuss can be seen as the means they used to create a negative atmosphere against the accused and to prevent the judge from acquitting him,” he said. Cabinet spokesman and justice minister in the Ahmadinejad cabinet, Gholam Hossein Elham, and Intelligence Minister Mohseni Ejei have also protested against the court decision. Ejei said, if permitted by the judiciary, his ministry would publish documents that prove the charges that Mousvian spied for the British. While Ahmadinejad has not named anyone he has provided enough hints to make it clear that he thinks the pressure on the judge came from Rafsanjani who now leads two of the country’s most influential state bodies, the Experts Assembly and the Expediency Council. Rafsanjani, under whose presidency Iran’s nuclear program started, has in recent months been critical of the government’s “adventurism” in dealing with the nuclear issue and warned about the danger of driving the country to war. “The battle on Mousavian’s case is a continuation of the war raging between Ahmadinejad and Rafsanjani, in veiled words but too obvious not to notice, for some time now. It can be seen as Ahmadinejad’s wish to suppress opponents of his nuclear and foreign policies, Rafsanjani in particular, and Rafsanjani’s wish to weigh his own influence, to know his friends,” an analyst in Tehran told IPS. “Obviously Rafsanjani is far from asking to abandon the nuclear program. He believes, however, that Ahmadinejad is unnecessarily making the issue more and more complicated by alienating the international community and inviting further U.N. sanctions. He is worried the country will be driven to war by domestic extremists and the U.S.,” he said. “Rafsanjani has kept his very old ties with conservatives and he has managed to foster friendlier relations with reformists in the past few years. This is clearly seen from the results of the election that put him at the top of a council that has the power to choose our future supreme leader and even to dispose of the present one, even if only theoretically,” the analyst added. “Ahmadinejad’s attacks on him (Rafsanjani) and his political dependents have the potential to bring the hidden conflicts in the hardline and conservative camp to light. From some very prominent conservatives’ negative reaction to Ahmadinejad’s persistence in calling Mousavian a spy, it appears that some conservatives are now finding it dangerous for their political future to tie their destinies with Ahmadinejad,” the analyst said.
Former parliament speaker Nategh Nouri who leads the Inspection Bureau of the Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei’s office and is among his top advisors is one of the most prominent conservatives who has openly defended Mousavian. Parliament speaker Haddad Adel has also said that the independence of the judiciary from the executive and the judge’s verdicts must be respected. “If individuals possess documents that prove the judge in Mousavian’s case has been under pressure, they must produce their documents to the judiciary,” he was reported by the hardline Alef news portal as saying, presumably referring to Ahmadinejad’s claims of pressure on the judge. On Ahmadinejad’s demand that Mousavian be tried publicly, Haddad Adel said a decision on a whether a trial should be conducted in public or not has to be made before the trial and not afterwards. Ahmadinejad called the opponents his nuclear policy traitors at a meeting with students of Amirkabir University of Technology three weeks ago and threatened to expose them. In recent weeks Ahmadinejad has repeatedly said Iran’s nuclear case is closed and that a third U.N. resolution against Iran is out of question. However, after a meeting in London on Nov. 30 between EU’s top diplomat Xavier Solana and Iran’s new chief nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili, Solana told reporters he was “disappointed” with the talks that lasted five hours. The appointment of Jalili by Ahmadinejad in October, to replace former chief nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani, is seen as a move to have total control over the nuclear issue. “One must also bear in mind that conservatives and hardliners have traditionally never had a share of more than 20 percent of the Iranian electorate’s vote. Initially Ahmadinejad’s popularity rubbed off on them and they were grateful to him for that,” he added. “But his popularity will suffer greatly if he loses the nuclear standoff. He is also increasingly proving himself a control freak and a person incapable of fair play. He made former nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani resign. He has forced several ministers into resignation rather than sacking them directly. His circle of trusted friends is becoming smaller and smaller,” the analyst said. “His allies donít feel safe and are afraid of going down with him if he loses the nuclear standoff. So even if some of them are not drifting to Rafsanjani’s bosom, taking Ahmadinejad’s opposite side in the nuclear spy case is a good way to dissociate themselves from him in the public eye,” he added.