IRGC general fires back at Rafsanjani on the state of US-Iran relations

In this Monday’s front-page editorial of Sobh-e Sadegh (09 April 2012, No.544), entitled “The Response of the Imam to Mr. Hashemi”, Brigadier General Yadollah Javani gave what could be considered the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ (IRGC) official reply to Ayatollah Ali-Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani’s controversial comments on the state of US-Iran relations reported last week.

Rafsanjani’s comments, which caused a stir in both the Iranian and Western press, centered on an alleged letter he wrote to the founder of the Islamic Republic of Iran, the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, in the final years of his life. Rafsanjani claims that in the letter he urged Khomeini to deal with the state of “no talks” and “no relations” between the United States and Iran because “These are bends in the road that if you [Khomeini] do not help us get around, after you [pass away] they will be hard to overcome.” Overall, Rafsanjani’s comments urged greater pragmatism in Iran’s foreign policy and improved relations with the US, EU, and Saudi Arabia.

As we outlined in our coverage of these comments, Rafsanjani was curiously silent on what, if any, response Khomeini gave to his alleged letter. The Iranian press subsequently severely criticized Rafsanjani on this silence. Rafsanjani responded to the criticism by claiming that:

“If there were issues with my arguments in regard to relations with America, the Imam [Khomeini] would have certainly responded to me at that time.”

Within the Islamic Republic’s domestic politics, it is common for all factions to use Khomeini’s legacy to reinforce their own political platforms and positions. A number of regime officials and media commentators have shot back by using quotes made by Khomeini to contradict Rafsanjani’s claims. Javani, who is the head of the IRGC’s Political Bureau and editor-in-chief of Sobh-e Sadegh, has given what may be one of the most devastating and important responses to Rafsanjani.

Javani attacked the notion that Khomeini’s lack of response to Rafsanjani’s letter was a sign of his acquiescence. Rather, he argued that if Khomeini had accepted Rafsanjani’s position on US-Iran relations, he would have set into motion a process of negotiations with the US. Javani states that not only did Khomeini not seek reconciliation with the US, but that the latter’s position on the issue only became more hardline as time went on. Javani sees this as being implicit in the anti-American statements Khomeini made right up until his death:

“The Imam [Khomeini], by repeating his previous positions in regard to America, gave Mr. Hashemi his answer until the very last minute of his life.”

Javani divided Rafsanjani’s points vis-a-vis relations with the United States into three main arguments and responded to each in turn, using Khomeini quotes to buttress his claims. First, he raised Rafsanjani’s idea that the United States is a “superpower”, and because of this Iran must negotiate and restore ties. Javani fired back a number of Khomeini’s statements which he believed contradicted this point, including the following:

“America can not do a damn thing.”

“We are not seeking to have America to do something for us, we will put America underfoot.”

“There is only one destination, and that is the defeat of the superpowers.”

Next, Javani addressed Rafsanjani’s notion that because Iran maintained ties with other major power, such as Russia, China, and the EU, it could also acceptably do so with the US. Once more, Javani brought up a number of Khoemini quotes which contradicted this notion, including the following:

“We have not received as much injury from anyone else as we have from America.”

“America is the number one enemy of the innocent and downtrodden people of the world.”

“America is the Great Satan.”

Finally, Javani questioned Rafsanjani’s assertion that the current situation of “no talks” and “no relations” could not persist, raising forth the following Khomeini statements:

“May God awaken those who see dreams of America.”

“Our relationship with America is the relationship between the innocent and guilty, the exploited and exploiter.”

“If they kill us a hundred times and we rise again, we shall not stop fighting America.”

Editor’s Note: Javani’s editorial is particularly important because it is likely to reflect not only the official position of the IRGC, but also the current Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. It is still somewhat unclear why Rafsanjani made the recent revelation about his letter to Khomeini in the mid-to-late 1980s. The timing suggests that he may hope to generate support for a “pragmatic” and conciliatory approach by the Islamic regime in the upcoming round of P5+1 nuclear negotiations set to begin on Friday 13 April 2012 in Istanbul, Turkey. The backlash against Rafsanjani, evidenced by Javani’s article, may be an indication that his “pragmatic” position does not enjoy wide support by the regime’s key power holders, at least for the time being.

Rafsanjani, an ex-president (1989-1997) and current head of the Expediency Council, among other things, was once considered the most powerful and wealthy individual in Iran. Since the election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in 2005 however, he has become one of the main targets of the Neo-Principalist faction over allegations of corruption and poor leadership. Last year, Rafsanjani was removed from his post as chief of the Assembly of Experts and was once again a target for Neo-Principalists, who have increasingly taken positions of power in the regime, during the March 2012 legislative elections. Although he and his supporters, sometimes referred to as “Pragmatists”, continue to operate in Iranian politics, it would not be an understatement to say that they are in a fight for their political lives.