20 October 2011

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei says Iran could scrap the directly elected presidency if necessary.

Khamenei’s comments come after months of wrangling between hardline conservatives and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The president’s advisers are accused of trying to undermine the clergy. Eliminating direct presidential elections and having parliament choose the president would limit the president’s scope to exert authority in sensitive areas, including foreign policy.

Separately, the UK Treasury says it has frozen the assets of the five men suspected of an Iranian plot to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to the US last week.

1 September 2011

On 29 August, Tehran said it will no longer negotiate a nuclear fuel swap with existing nuclear powers. “We will no longer negotiate a fuel swap and a halt to our production of [nuclear] fuel,” said Fereydoun Abbasi Davani, the chief of Iran Atomic Energy Organisation in an interview with the official Irna news agency.

“The United States is not a safe country with which we can negotiate a fuel swap or any other issue,” he added.

The fuel swap proposals aimed to give Iran an alternative to enriching uranium itself. Despite international sanctions, Tehran is pushing ahead with its enrichment plans, which the US and other Western powers claim is part of plans to build nuclear weapons.

Meanwhile, an Iranian man accused of Israeli links was sentenced to death on 28 August for the murder of one of Iran’s nuclear scientists on 12 January. Majid Jamali Fashi had already confessed to the murder of Massoud Ali Mohammadi, a physics professor at Tehran University.

A judiciary spokesman said that Fashi was condemned to death for “waging war against God” and being “corrupt on earth”.

Fashi now has 20 days to appeal.

26 May 2011

Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad escaped injury from an explosion during his visit to the country’s largest refinery in Abadan on 24 May.

The blast fuelled speculation on the future of the president at a time when Ahmadinejad is engaged in a power struggle with Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the Islamic republic’s ultimate authority. The president has dismissed several government ministers and put himself at the head of the country’s oil ministry in what is seen as a direct challenge to the Supreme Leader a year ahead of presidential elections.

After the Guardian Council, Iran’s constitutional watchdog, ruled the self-appointment unconstitutional, Ahmadinejad has backed down, stating that he would send a less-senior official to next month’s Opec meeting in Vienna.

The refinery explosion has also brought internal ethnic tension into the spotlight. Abadan lies close to the border with Iraq in the heartland of Iran’s Arab minority. Arabs in Iran say they are subject to discrimination and have in the past launched terrorists attacks.

19 May 2011

Tehran has denied that its missile programme had been aided by technology transfers from North Korea. The US, UK and Germany are keen to stop the technology transfers by introducing measures such as shipping and transportation controls and combating North Korea’s use of front companies and aliases to avoid sanctions.

The state-owned Fars news agency reported that Iran has developed ballistic missiles with the range of 300 kilometres. The missiles are now being mass produced, according to the report. Meanwhile, Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is to oversee the country’s Oil Ministry, after dismissing Oil Minister Masoud Mirkazemi on 14 May.

Three ministers were removed to slim down the government, which will be formed of 17 ministries, instead of 21, by 2015.

Having taken charge of the Oil Ministry, Ahmadinejad could also take on the role of president of oil producers’ cartel Opec, as Iran holds the group’s presidency for 2011. The next Opec ministerial conference is planned for 8 June in Vienna.

12 May 2011

In a widening rift between Iran’s two leaders, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei gave President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad an ultimatum on 6 May to accept his decision over the reinstatement of the intelligence minister or resign.

The rift first occurred when Ahmadinejad asked Intelligence Minister Heider Moslehi to resign on 17 April, but Khamenei vetoed the decision. Moslehi has since been reinstated.

In response, Ahmadinejad boycotted his official duties for more than eight days before reappearing on 1 May to hold a cabinet meeting. The president was also absent from religious ceremonies held at Khamenei’s house.

Members of parliament are seeking to summon Ahmadinejad for questioning over his behaviour. So far, 90 MPs have signed the petition. Under Iranian law, a further 85 signatures are needed for the president to be impeached.

5 May 2011

Having boycotted his official duties for eight days, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad returned to work on 1 May.

At a cabinet meeting, Ahmadinejad dismissed rumours of tensions between himself and Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Ahmadinejad had not been seen in public after a rift with Khamenei. The rift occurred after Khameni refused to accept the resignation in April of Intelligence Minister Heider Moslehi, who Ahmadinejad had forced to resign. Moslehi has since been reinstated in his position

21 April 2011

On 17 April, Iran’s Intelligence Minister Heider Moslehi resigned. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has the final decision on the appointments of ministers of foreign affairs, intelligence, defence and the interior, refused to accept his resignation. Moslehi’s resignation is the latest high-profile rift between President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and members of his government over his hardline policies.

Further rifts are expected as the government prepares for the next parliamentary elections that will be held in March 2012.

During a weekly press briefing on 19 April, foreign ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast said that Tehran will make every effort to help end the crisis in Bahrain and other regional countries.

Iran again criticised the military intervention in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia’s decision to deploy more than 1,000 troops to the kingdom on 14 March.

7 April 2011

On 3 April, GCC foreign ministers condemned Iran’s meddling in the internal affairs of the GCC at a meeting in Riyadh. Abdullatif al-Zayani, the new secretary general of the GCC said that it threatened security and stability in the region.

Iran has criticised Saudi Arabia’s intervention in Bahrain since 15 March when it deployed 1,000 troops to the island.

10 March 2011

Further demonstrations were held in early March in central Tehran to demand the release of two opposition figures, Mehdi Karroubi and Mir Hossein Mousavi. The unrest is seen as a continuation of the protests that followed the 2009 presidential election.

Government actions:

  • The government has not announced any measures to quell protests, instead it has banned local media from covering the protests

Political Risk assessment

The government of President Ahmadinejad succeeded in stamping out the protests in 2009 and looks likely to do the same again.

23 February 2011

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s government faced down widespread protests back in 2009, when hundreds of thousands of Iranians took to the streets to condemn the alleged rigging of the presidential election that handed the incumbent another landslide win.

The deployment of Revolutionary Guard cadres to quell the protests succeeded in containing that uprising. But Tehran’s government now finds itself in the unusual position of praising the upheaval in Egypt, yet condemning the outbreak of protests back home — a hypocritical stance, say the regime’s critics.

In mid-February, large anti-government protests spread across Iran, resulting in another strong security force reaction. Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi, two opposition leaders, were placed under house arrest.

But it remains to be seen whether Iranians, who already enjoy greater democratic rights than their Arab neighbours, will rise up as they did two years ago.