News / Middle East

Tensions Escalate Among Top Iranian Leaders

Iran's top leaders appear to be quarreling in public, as pressure mounts on the government due to deteriorating economic conditions.   

A war of words broke out between Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Judiciary Chief Sadegh Larijani during the weekend and the Iranian press has taken the unusual step of publicizing their quarrel.

President Ahmadinejad reportedly slammed Sadegh Larijani in a speech to religious leaders Sunday, calling a suspended sentence against a top aide "strange."  Mr. Ahmadinejad's deputy chief of staff, Jafar Behdad, was punished for writing an article criticizing Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani, the brother of the judiciary chief.

Justice Larijani described Mr. Ahmadinejad's speech as "unjustifiable" in the Tehran press, contending the president should use "sober, dignified and fair language."

Tensions between the Larijani brothers, and President Ahmadinejad have received widespread attention in recent months.

Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani has repeatedly criticized the president's economic policies, recently in a parliament session.

He says parliament has the right to impeach top officials, using legal procedures, if they go against the law and the constitutional rights of parliament.

Former Iranian President Abolhassan Bani Sadr, who lives in exile in Paris, says the deteriorating Iranian economy is exacerbating Mr. Ahmadinejad's struggle with other top leaders:

He says a number of factors are aggravating  tensions between Mr. Ahmadinejad and the Larijani brothers, including the failing economy, a botched economic-reform plan, and a failed attempt to name a protégé to succeed Mr. Ahamedinejad.

He adds that tensions are also mounting because elements of Iran's powerful Revolutionary Guard are angry with Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei for imposing Mr. Ahmadinejad, after last year's disputed election.

Iranian-born analyst Alex Vatanka of the Middle East Institute in Washington says the Supreme Leader is worried about his shaky position within Iran's power structure:

"Khamenei is looking out for number one," said Alex Vatanka. "He has to be the over-riding factor in keeping this system together, and if Ahmadinejad becomes too powerful or anybody else, for that matter, he will bring him down, totally or a notch, and Larijani is playing that role.  The Supreme Leader is giving Ali Larijani the tools to stand up to the president."

Vatanka also says Iran's political quarrels are likely to make things more difficult for U.S. President Barack Obama to achieve a possible rapprochement with Tehran.

President Obama repeated his desire to "engage" with Iran, during a meeting last week with journalists.  He added he thought international economic sanctions are starting to pinch the Iranian economy.  

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