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IRAN FILES: Rafsanjani Comeback, Family Planning, World Cup Fever

Tehran's Molavi Bazaar
Tehran's Molavi Bazaar
Ahmad Shayegan

A Rafsanjani return?
The former diplomat and Tehran-based commentator Sabah Zanganeh wrote in an item published Dec. 22 in the reformist daily Aftab-e Yazd that the former president Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani, considered Iran’s great "pragmatist" politician, could help engineer a rapprochement with regional rival Saudi Arabia, for the "trust" he inspired among Iranian and Saudi officialdom.

Zanganeh was writing in response to unconfirmed reports that Rafsanjani might visit Saudi Arabia. Zanganeh wrote that "undoubtedly" relations between Iran and the Saudi monarchy had further deteriorated in recent years, after first beginning to sour with the fall of Iran’s monarchy in 1979. Clashing ideologies and interests had since fueled proxy confrontations in such countries as Iraq, Syria and Bahrain. The rise of a new generation of princes in the kingdom he added, had led the kingdom to harden its stance toward Iran. This he added, coincided with the radical Iranian governments led by Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in 2005-2013.

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Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani — Photo: Mesgary

Rafsanjani was generally sidelined during the Ahmadinejad presidencies and came close to a state of political impotence; it was not immediately clear however if he would make a political comeback after the 2013 election of President Hassan Rouhani, with whom he has good working relations.

Influence on Syria, "Mischief" from America
Ayatollah Ahmad Khatami, another influential cleric, told the official IRNA news agency on Dec. 23 that without Iran's presence, the Geneva 2 conference to discuss peace in Syria next month would "surely fail." Khatami said it was "America's mischief" that had excluded Iran, even if the “permanent leg of any plot against Iran" was Israel. "Whether they like it or not, Islamic Iran has an extraordinary influence, not just in Syria but in other Islamic lands ... without Iran's presence there will be no progress in Syria."

Bad faith?
Following the interim deal made last month in Geneva, Iran's Judiciary Chief Ayatollah Sadeq Amoli-Larijani has urged Iran's nuclear negotiators to "clarify" the scope of agreements made with Western powers and push for an unconditional end to sanctions on Iran, the reformist Aftab-e Yazd reported.

Iranian authorities were angered by the recent publication in the U.S. of firms and persons to be penalized for violating current sanctions against Iran, saying it was a sign of bad faith. Amoli-Larijani, a conservative cleric, used a public meeting on Dec. 18 in Tehran to say that Americans had "very strange interpretations of the agreement made, which no thinking person can accept," and renewing sanctions would make the Geneva accord "meaningless."

One of Iran's negotiators told the semi-official ISNA agency on Dec. 21 that the Geneva accord would allow Iran to maintain its daily crude exports at one million barrels, instead of reducing them to 800,000 as he said Western powers had previously envisaged. Hamid Ba'idinejad said "the most important part of the Geneva accord" for Iran included "release of part of Iran's oil revenues" equivalent to the cash earned for 200,000 barrels a day, which would allow Iran to purchase food, and farming and medical products, the reformist Shargh newspaper reported. Ba'idinejad cited other sectors expected to benefit from an incipient loosening of sanctions — insurance, transportation, petrochemicals and trading in gems such as diamonds.

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Gas and oil fields near Ahwaz, Khuzestan province — Photo: dynamosquito

One hundred and nine former diplomats recently signed a public letter backing Iran's negotiations over the nuclear dossier, Arman newspaper reported on Dec. 22, describing the letter as an effective "order" for domestic critics of talks to "be quiet." The critics were likely the "hardliners" in Iran, although nobody could oppose talks per se, given their approval by the Supreme Leader.

Cleric deplores family planning “plot”
Ayatollah Naser Makarem-Shirazi, a senior Iranian cleric and jurist, deplored family planning on Dec. 18 as "a plot by America and Israel" to curb Third World populations, Aftab-e Yazd reported. Iran he said had "unfortunately fallen into this trap" — referring to family-planning policies imposed after the 1980s. Modern society had no respect for the family, the ayatollah said, and "many families no longer understand each other." To curb an expected “sharp” fall in Iran’s population he said, "families must have at least three children, though five children are better. I myself have seven."

Iran enters World Cup mindset
World Cup spirit is gradually taking over Iran, whose national team is slated to play in Brazil after missing the 2010 edition in South Africa, reports the Folha de S. Paolo blogger Samy Adghirni. "Media coverage is growing bigger every week, to the point where it is difficult now to turn on the radio without stumbling on some debate over the other teams in Iran's group (Argentina, Nigeria and Bosnia) or over the performance of national players."

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Iranian supporters during the 2006 World Cup — Photo: asadmalek

Enthusiasm is also spreading to the streets of Tehran, where weeks ago Samsung installed dozens of green and yellow billboards announcing that anyone buying an HD television could win a trip to see Iran play in Brazil. As for those not taking chances and who want to be sure to be there, they're complaining the prices are too high. One Iranian travel agency reportedly tried to charge one fan $15,000 for a package including travel, hotel and tickets to the three games.

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FOCUS: Russia-Ukraine War

The Russian Orthodox Church Has A Kremlin Spy Network — And Now It's Spreading Abroad

The Russian Orthodox Church has long supported Russia’s ongoing war effort in Ukraine. Now, clergy members in other countries are suspected of collaborating with and recruiting for Russian security forces.

Photo of Russian soldiers during mass at an Orthodox church in Moscow.

Russian soldiers during mass at an Orthodox church in Moscow.

Wiktoria Bielaszyn

WARSAW — Several countries have accused members of the Russian Orthodox clergy of collaborating with Russian security services, pushing Kremlin policy inside the church and even recruiting spies from within.

On Sept. 21, Bulgaria deported Russian Archimandrite Vassian, guardian of the Orthodox parish in Sofia, along with two Belarusian priests. In a press release, the Bulgarian national security agency says that clergy were deported because they posed a threat to national security. "The measures were taken due to their actions against the security and interests of the Republic of Bulgaria," Bulgarian authorities wrote in a statement, according to Radio Svoboda.

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These reports were also confirmed by Russia's ambassador to Bulgaria, Eleonora Mitrofanova, who told Russian state news agency TASS that the priests must leave Bulgaria within 24 hours. “After being declared persona non grata, Wassian and the other two clerics were taken home under police supervision to pack up their belongings. Then they will be taken to the border with Serbia" she said.

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