PHOTO: President Rouhani greets crowds in Yazd on Monday
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UPDATE 1810 GMT: Former President Hashemi Rafsanjani and President Rouhani smile broadly in the first meeting of the Assembly of Experts since the February 26 elections.
Following the centrist-reformist success in the elections, Rafsanjani is hoping to regain the chair of the Assembly, which chooses the Supreme Leader, in a vote scheduled for May 24.
The former President led the Assembly from 2007 to 2011 but lost the position as he was ostracized for supporting the right to protest following the disputed 2009 Presidential election.
UPDATE 1730 GMT: Frud Bezhan has posted a follow-up article around President Rouhani’s defiant mention of his predecessor Mohammad Khatami:
Scott Lucas, an Iran specialist at Birmingham University in Britain and editor of the EA World View website, suggests Rohani was emboldened by February elections that strengthened the hand of relative moderates and reformists.
“Rohani wouldn’t have made those remarks if he hadn’t got the boost from the election,” Lucas says. “It is a significant shot to fire.”
Ghanem Nuseibeh, founder of the London-based political-risk-analysis group Cornerstone Global Associates, says Rohani took a calculated risk that could put him on a collision course with hard-liners.
“Rohani has given the strongest public indication yet that he is uncomfortable with the position that the establishment has taken against Khatami,” Nuseibeh says. “It can be interpreted as the tip of the iceberg in terms of differences inside the Iranian regime.”
ORIGINAL ENTRY: Challenging Iran’s judiciary, President Rouhani declared on Monday that a media ban on former reformist President Khatami is a “joke”.
In 2014, Iranian authorities barred any quotations or photographs of Khatami, who was President from 1997 to 2005. However, speaking to a press conference and a crowd in the city of Yazd, Rouhani praised Khatami as “my dear brother” and said Iran “will never forget its servants….No one can erase the names and greatness of those who have served the people.”
The President then said of the ban:
It is a lie to say that [coverage of Khatami] is forbidden….The Supreme National Security Council has passed no such resolution on Mr. Khatami. From day one up until now, I have been in this council. There has not been any such resolution, and at no time has one been debated.
The secretariat does not have the right to make decisions on this matter….If there is a resolution, it is illegal.
State TV cut the volume during the Khatami passage of the speech as the crowd chanted the former President’s name. The broadcast also avoiding any sight of banners with the pictures of Khatami and Rouhani.
Rouhani praises ex-Pres Khatami visiting Yazd, audience erupts in cheers, stateTV mutes them
[2nd half from YouTube] pic.twitter.com/QlIGIBCWYX
— Hadi Nili (@HadiNili) March 7, 2016
Rouhani’s intervention was another sign of confidence after a centrist-reformist bloc unexpectedly won a large minority of seats in the February 26 elections for Parliament and the Assembly of Experts, the body which chooses the Supreme Leader.
The President hailed Mohammad Reza Aref, a leading reformist who helped formed the centrist-reformist List of Hope and who accompanied Rouhani to Yazd.
Aref topped the vote in Tehran, where the List of Hope won all 30 Parliamentary seats.
Rouhani continued with praise for the outcome in the cloak of “unity”:
No faction was defeated, and all factions won. In these elections, morals prevailed over misconduct, and moderation prevailed over extremism.” He added that the elections indicate that Iranians “want interaction with the world.
Judiciary: Anyone Who Violates Ban “Will Be Confronted”
Judiciary spokesman Gholam Hossein Mohseni Ejei immediately hit back at Rouhani. Ejei said the ban was a “judicial order” and, contradicting the Presdent, claimed it as “resolution 298 of the Supreme National Security Council”.
The spokesman chided, “Mr. Rouhani probably does not remember this resolution because he is so busy.”
Ejei warned that anyone who “violates the order” banning Khatami’s words and image “will be confronted”.
Aref: Turnout Important in Runoff Elections
Reformist leader Aref had said on Sunday that a high turnout in run-off elections in April is needed to capitalize on the success in the first round.
Aref said reformists require a “decisive majority in Parliament” to be effective.
(hat tip to Iran Tracker for translations)
Revolutionary Guards: “Israel Within Reach of Our Missiles”
The Revolutionary Guards, who have been relatively muted since the February 26 elections, have taken over headlines with a declaration that Israel is within the range of most of the Islamic Republic’s missiles.
“Any one bearing greater enmity towards Islamic Iran will naturally be more fearful of such capabilities and preparednesses,” the Guards commander, General Mohammad Ali Jafari, said on Tuesday during the final stage of large-scale missile drills.
The Guards said the maneuvers are aimed at displaying Iran’s “deterrence power” and the country’s “full readiness to confront all kinds of threats against the [Islamic] Revolution, establishment and [Iran’s] territorial integrity”.
Jafari said the firing of ballistic missiles was a crushing response to the enemies of the Islamic Republic who have imposed sanctions on Iran’s missile program.
He claimed that US-led sanctions have helped the country boost its missile power, achieve self-reliance, and manufacture all its missiles.
State outlet Press TV and Tehran University academic Seyed Mohammad Marandi support Jafari’s line that Iran’s missile testing proves the Islamic Republic has deterred US attacks and “sends a strong message to Saudi Arabia and Israel”.