Key advisor to Supreme Leader may seek Iran presidency

Share

Ali Akbar Velayati, the longtime foreign policy advisor to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, is likely to run for Iran’s presidency next year, and if elected would take a more pragmatic stance to ease soaring tensions with the West that have isolated Iran and hurt its economy, a former Iranian diplomat told Al Monitor.

The former diplomat and academic, who plans to advise Velayati, a longtime family friend, if he does run, asked not to be named in a piece. He spoke to Al Monitor in an interview Friday, as Iranians were trying to analyze press reports showing the United States increasing its muscular rhetoric in an effort to stave off any possible Israeli unilateral strike against Iran. Iran does not fear an Israeli attack, the former diplomat said, but does feel the impact of economic sanctions and takes the prospect of possible future US military action more seriously.

The former diplomat expressed optimism that Iran would reach a negotiated solution with the West over its nuclear program by June of next year, when Iranian presidential elections are due to be held. He also said the Iranian foreign ministry may take a larger role in handling Iran’s negotiations with the P5+1 over its nuclear program in the future.

The larger message the former diplomat conveyed is that Khamenei, at 73, does not want the end of his legacy in Iranian history books to be having brought economic hardship to the Iranian people. The sanctions are hurting Iran and Iranians, including in the fall of the Iran’s currency, the rial, to 20,000 to the dollar last week. Iran also recognizes that Syria’s Bashar al-Assad will eventually be toppled in Syria, the former diplomat said, but said whatever future leadership comes to power in Syria will maintain ties with Tehran. (Among economic reasons he cited, Iranian pilgrims bring Syria $2 billion in annual revenues, and Syria needs Iranian oil and gas, he said.)

Iran’s leadership “believes Obama will win” reelection, the former diplomat said. Iran’s leadership “are rational, and calculate how to deal with the US,” he said. Key factions of Iran’s elite are looking for more effective stewardship of Iran’s international relations.

Velayati, who studied pediatric medicine at John Hopkins University in the 1970s, served as Iran’s foreign minister from 1981-1997, under then President Khamenei and Iranian President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani. From Iran’s conservative “right-wing,” Velayati’s prospective 2013 presidential candidacy has the support of Rafsanjani and some reformists, and would be acceptable to the Supreme Leader, who does not back a candidate per se, the former diplomat said.

At a news conference late last month, Velayati said Iran would pursue negotiations with the P5+1 until they reach “positive and constructive” results, Iranian news media reported. “The Islamic Republic of Iran should be allowed to use peaceful nuclear energy and such a right should be recognized by negotiators of the P5+1,” Velayati said July 27th, Press TV reported.

Velayati, who also holds the title of secretary general of the Islamic Awakening conference, last month denounced western interference in Syria.

“The Syrian people should determine the destiny of their country; the ongoing crisis in Syria is a plot imposed against the Syrian nation and government by the occupying force of the Zionist regime and the US,” he said July 9th, Iran’s IRNA news agency reported. “Iran supports reforms in Syria.”

While Iran may seek to make tactical adjustments to manage its circumstances and international standing, Iran’s leadership remains deeply hostile to and suspicious of the United States and, for now anyhow, averse to entering into a direct dialogue with the Americans. “Iran’s leader does not think it is in Iran’s interest to sit and talk with the Americans,” the former diplomat said. For one, “the Iran side believes the U.S. can’t do something like that in secret.”

(Photo: Ali Akbar Velayati, an envoy of Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, background right, listens to Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, foreground, during talks in Moscow on February 8, 2007. Kommersant)