Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Ahmadi Nejad and Rezai Under Presure To Betray Their Supporters

Khaleej Times Online: "Iranian hardliners under pressure to trim down presidential list
(AFP)

8 June 2005
TEHERAN - The four hardliners running for Iran’s presidency came under increasing pressure from supporters on Wednesday to agree on just one of their number to stand in a bid to ensure a right-wing victory on June 17.

But so far, not one of the quartet -- Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf, Ali Larijani, Mahmud Ahmadi Nejad and Mohsen Rezai -- has shown any sign of standing aside.

“The opinion polls are showing that the votes for the conservatives, put together, are higher than for each of the other candidates. But if they all stay in the race, not one of them could win,” wrote Hossein Shariatmadari, director of the hardline Kayhan evening newspaper.

“If these four could reach an agreement on just one of them standing, victory is certain,” he wrote.

Leading the race is powerful ex-president and leading cleric Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, more of a pragmatic and centrist conservative. He is campaigning on a platform of saving the Islamic republic from the ideological far-right.

Of the four hardliners, populist former national police chief Qalibaf is seen as being the candidate with the best chance. Informal opinion polls, which must be treated with caution, show Rafsanjani with around 30 percent support and Qalibaf with 17 percent.

Shariatmadari, an outspoken pillar of Iran’s religious right, said “the solution is to put them all in a mosque and cut them off from contacts with their respective entourage.

“There they will be face to face with Allah, and will understand the need to choose a single candidate from among themselves.”

Qalibaf, Larijani, Ahmedinejad and Rezai are also veteran commanders from the Revolutionary Guards, the powerful ideological army set up after the revolution. The decision of all of them to stand has bemused many in the right-wing camp.

Larijani, a former state media boss and advisor to supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, is trailing Qalibaf, while Ahmedinejad and Rezai are shown with just a few percentage points each.

One hardline newspaper said two of the four fundamentalists were mulling a pull-out with just over a week to go before the election.

“According to our information, two of them will withdraw in favour of one of the others, and this will have a positive effect,” the Ressalat paper said, as other papers said the two were Ahmedinejad and Rezai.

Both have denied plans to withdraw and denounced the ”pressure”.

But hardliners overall have found difficulty challenging Rafsanjani. He has driven the debate with calls for greater economic liberalisation as well as a rethink of how the regime deals with young people and its severed relations with the United States.

On Wednesday, Rafsanjani said he would agree to renew dialogue with arch-foe Washington if it releases Iranian assets frozen since the Islamic revolution.

“As I have said before, a goodwill gesture on the part of the United States would be for them to unblock our assets,” the top Shiite cleric said in an interview with the hardline Jomhuri Islami newspaper.

“If such a gesture was made, we could enter into negotiations. This has been my position and I still think the same way,” the 70-year-old added.

Iran and the United States cut off relations in 1980, a year after the revolution, and Iranian assets in the US were frozen. Rafsanjani has previously said the figure is at least eight billion dollars plus interest.

“The United States has still not responded. But if they do respond, I will speak to the guide (Khamenei) and we can start to negotiate,” Rafsanjani said.

Iran’s supreme leader is seen as being against any rapprochement, as are the four hardliners.

But as for his relations with Khamenei -- the subject of speculation that a power struggle may be on the horizon -- Rafsanjani told the paper the two were “great friends and maybe even had the purest friendship that ever existed”."