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Ayatollah Rafsanjani: A pragmatic cleric and savvy politician

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He stood out among Iran’s ruling establishment with only wisps of hair on his chin instead of the full beards of his clerical colleagues and revolutionary commanders, but Ayatollah Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani was also a pragmatic, savvy politician who sought a modus vivendi with the West, and demonstrated that democracy, though imperfect, was a feature of the Islamic Republic.

Long described as the second-most powerful man in Iran (after Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, whom he had supported for the post after Ayatollah Khomeini’s death) Rafsanjani, who died on Sunday at the age of 82, was among founding fathers of Iran’s Revolution and Islamic Republic.

Born on August 25, 1934, in a village near the city Rafsanjan (hence his name) in Kerman province to a wealthy family of pistachio farmers, he went on to study theology in the seminary city of Qom with Khomeini, whose close lieutenant he became. (His family business continued to prosper and his wealth was recently estimated at nearly $750 million.)

Long opposing the Shah’s rule and frequently imprisoned, Rafsanjani, after the Revolution, in whose success he was involved in as finance in-charge and conduit to other opposition groups, became a prominent member of the dispensation.

Serving as the Parliament’s Speaker (1980-89), where he was a prominent voice in persuading Khomeini to end the war with Iraq, he succeeded Khamenei as President in 1989 and in his two-term tenure, led the country’s reconstruction after the ruinous and ultimately futile decade-long war, as well as restoring relations with the Arab world.

He also was the chief of the Assembly of Experts (which among other duties, selects the Supreme Leader) from 2007 to 2011 and the first and still-serving head of the the Expediency Council, which served as an advisory council to the Supreme Leader.

But his most profound achievement was as an influential and courageous supporter of people’s rights in wake of the contested 2009 presidential elections when Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was re-elected.

It was a full circle for Rafsanjani, after losing the 2005 Presidential elections to Ahmadinejad, whose populist message proved more alluring to the people at large beyond the elite and middle class who had benefited during his own presidency (1989-97).

Ahead of the June 2009 election in the run-up to which Ahmadinejad had regularly attacked him and accused him of bankrolling his opponent’s campaign, he had written to Ayatollah Khamenei, seeking he “ensure that the election would be a fair one” (according to Iranian-American journalist and writer Hooman Majd’s “The Ayatollah’s Democracy”, 2010).

In wake of the results, which led to weeks of riots and repression, Rafsanjani, whom Majd described as “not one to make mistakes” and “cool and collected”, did not take any hasty decision and remained quiet.

Also the Prayer Leader of Tehran, he finally spoke his mind in his sermon after Friday prayers on July 17, 2009, to the overflowing crowd at the Tehran University Campus, ignoring any directives from Khamenei.

Rafsanjani, frequently called “Kuseh (shark)” by the irreverent Iranians due to his smooth facial features, and political acumen, did not mince any words, quoting Khomeini to stress how political legitimacy rested on people’s consent, and the sanctity of their vote was paramount.

Maintaining Iran was a “theocratic republic”, he said: “If the government is not Islamic, then we are heading nowhere. If it is not a republic, then it doesn’t amount to anything.”

He also went on, as per Majd, to call for “an open society in which people can say what they want to say”, they should not be imprisoned for it and those who were, should be freed to re-unite with their families. Scuffles broke out but his message was clear, and soon the repression can said to have eased.

Rafsanjani lost his post as head of the Assembly of Experts in 2011 (though remaining a member) but was re-appointed chief of the Expediency Council the next year. He entered the fray in the 2013 Presidential elections but his candidature was disqualified. However, his supported candidate Hasan Rouhani went on to win, confirming he continued to be a leading mover and shaker in Iranian affairs.

America

Trump says Kim Jong Un wants to meet ‘as soon as possible’ and that he’s ‘very honorable’

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  • President Donald Trump continued his recent trend of praising North Korean leader Kim Jong Un on Tuesday by saying he was “very honorable” and “very open.”

  • Trump has a habit of mixing praise of Kim with threats, but has lately taken to praising the North Korean leader.

  • Trump is set to become the first US president to ever meet face to face with a North Korean leader after Kim made a set of stunning concessions and appeared to cave to US demands, but experts are skeptical.

President Donald Trump continued his recent trend of praising North Korean leader Kim Jong Un on Tuesday by saying he was “very honorable” and “very open” ahead of a planned meeting between the two leaders.

“Kim Jong Un – he really has been very open and, I think, very honorable from everything we’re seeing,” Trump said to reporters, as French President Emmanuel Macron visited the White House.

Trump has proven eager to meet with and conduct diplomacy with Kim despite spending almost all of 2017 threatening North Korea with nuclear annihilation and responding to Pyongyang’s own threats.

But since the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics in South Korea, and sweeping rounds of US-led sanctions after intercontinental ballistic missile tests and a massive nuclear test, Kim has opened himself up to diplomacy.

First North Korea offered to meet South Korean President Moon Jae-in, then made the same offer to Trump, and then Kim unexpectedly went to Beijing to meet Chinese President Xi Jinping.

Trump reportedly accepted the offer to meet Kim without consulting his secretary of state at the time, Rex Tillerson. South Korea’s Moon was less eager, but ultimately agreed when Kim agreed to meet his conditions.

Trump previously said he’d be “honored” to talk to Kim, which he now looks likely to achieve.

He’s also expressed admiration for Kim’s leadership of North Korea, despite the fact that the regime runs labor camps that have been likened to Auschwitz in Nazi-controlled Europe.

“Not many 27-year-old men could go in and take over a regime … Say what you want, but that’s not easy – especially at that age,” Trump told ABC News before his inauguration in January 2016.

“How many young guys – he was like 26 or 25 when his father died – take over these tough generals, and all of a sudden … he goes in, he takes over, and he’s the boss,” Trump said. “You gotta give him credit.”

Trump is set to become the first US president to ever meet face to face with a North Korean leader after Kim made a set of stunning concessions and appeared to cave to US demands.

But experts warn Business Insider that North Korea has entered into and backed out of talks with the US before, and may simply be working to gain sanctions relief as the country’s economy falters.

 

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Middle East

Rouhani warns Trump against walking away from n-deal

I am telling those in the White House that if they do not live up to their commitments, the Iranian government will react firmly.

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Tehran, April 24 : Iranian President Hassan Rouhani on Tuesday warned his US counterpart Donald Trump that abandoning a nuclear deal that the Tehran government signed with world powers in 2015 would lead to “serious consequences”.

Speaking live on television, Rouhani said his government had kept its end of the deal and warned Trump not to tear up the agreement, which had also been signed by Russia, China, Germany, the UK and France.

“I am telling those in the White House that if they do not live up to their commitments, the Iranian government will react firmly,” Rouhani said.

“If anyone betrays the deal, they should know that they would face severe consequences,” he added.

Trump has said that unless the US’ European allies put right what he has described as “terrible flaws” in the deal by May 12, his government would re-establish economic sanctions on Iran, dealing the pact a major blow, Xinhua news agency reported.

Rouhani stressed that Iran was complying with the deal, as has been confirmed a dozen times by the International Atomic Energy Agency, whose Director General Yukiya Amano said in March that a possible failure of the agreement would be a great loss.

French President Emmanuel Macron was in Washington in an attempt to try and persuade Trump not to walk away from the accord.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Monday he had agreed with his Chinese counterpart that Moscow and Beijing would try to block any US attempt to wreck the nuclear deal.

Iran has said it would ramp up its nuclear programme if the deal collapses.

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World

Xi-Modi to arrive at consensus on important issues: Vice Foreign Minister Kong

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Beijing, April 24: Chinese President Xi Jinping and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi may arrive at a consensus on some very important issues at their informal two-day summit this week in China’s central city of Wuhan, Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Kong Xuanyou said on Tuesday.

Kong, while talking to the Indian and Chinese journalists, said that “this would be an unprecedented summit (April 27-28) between the Chinese and Indian leaders”.

He said both Xi and Modi need to become “bosom friends” and have heart-to heart conversation.

IANS

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