Energy Headlines

31 august 2016

Power struggles in Iran could derail U.S.-Iranian nuclear talks as Ayatollah Khamanei’s undergoes surgery

There are mounting fears that a power struggle in Tehran over the powerful position of Supreme Leader could derail attempts to negotiate a deal over Iran’s nuclear programme.

Western diplomats involved in the negotiations believe the frail health of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the regime’s current Supreme Leader, has prompted fierce in-fighting between rival contenders as they jostle for the succession.

Concerns have grown over the health of Mr Khamenei, the country’s leading hardliner, after the 75-year-old underwent a series of operations for prostate cancer. Recent reports in the Iranian media have suggested that his condition is terminal, and that the man who had dominated Iranian politics since the death of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the revolution’s founding father in 1989, only has months to live.

In March, Ayatollah Mohammed Yazdi, 84, a hardline ally of Mr Khamenei, was elected head of the Assembly of Experts, the religious body responsible for choosing the country’s new Supreme Leader when the position falls vacant.

Western diplomats say that one of Mr Khamenei’s proteges, Sadeq Larijani, the head of Iran’s judicial system and a noted hardliner, is positioning himself to be appointed the new Supreme Leader when the Assembly of Experts comes to make its decision.

Mr Larijani, 54, is the brother of Ali Larijani, Iran’s former chief nuclear negotiator, who is now chairman of the Majlis, the Iranian parliament. He is reported to be conducting a purge against more moderate ayatollahs who might put their names forward to become the country’s Supreme Leader.

For example, Mr Larijani has begun a judicial inquiry into allegations of corruption made against the moderate ayatollah, Mahmoud Hashemi Shahroudi, who is a leading ally of Iran’s former moderate president, Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani. By starting the inquiry, diplomats believe Mr Larijani has effectively ended Mr Shahroudi’s chances of standing for election.

The hardliners will be tempted to prove their revolutionary credentials by vetoing any deal with the US

The political in-fighting in Tehran is causing particular concern for Western diplomats involved in negotiations to resolve the stand-off over Iran’s nuclear programme. June 30 has been set as the date for a final agreement to be reached, whereby Iran agrees to scale down the elements of its programme that could be used to develop nuclear weapons in return for the easing of crippling economic sanctions. After years of negotiations, US officials believe a deal is within reach.

But any final agreement negotiated between Iran and representatives of the so-called P5+1 – the five permanent members of the UN Security Council and Iran – needs to be ratified by the Supreme Leader.

“With so many people jockeying for position, the hardliners will be tempted to prove their revolutionary credentials by vetoing any deal with the US,” explained a senior Western diplomat.

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