The out-of-the-blue detention in Tehran of Iran’s former nuclear negotiator, Hossein Mousavian, Tuesday, May 1, was part of an ongoing witch hunt, as two opposing camps in the regime battle over the next steps to be taken in national nuclear policy-making.
This is reported by DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s Iran sources.
Until 2005, Moussavian was the deputy of Hojjat-ol-Eslam Hassan Rohani, Ali Larijani’s predecessor as senior nuclear negotiator and secretary of the Supreme National Security Council. He was and is an ally of ex-president Hashemi Rafsanjani and another previous president, Mohammed Khatami, both conservatives but also pragmatists. Before that, he served as Iran’s ambassador to Germany.
The arrested man was no saint; his record includes the assassination in 1992 of four leaders of the Iran’s opposition Kurdish Democratic Party, who were gunned down in the Berlin Mikonos restaurant.
Our sources disclose that Wednesday, Rafsanjani brought his considerable influence to bear to obtain Moussavian’s release from detention. He was assured by the office of supreme ruler Ayatollah Ali Khamenei that the suspect would be freed Thursday, May 3, after further questioning. The delay was engineered by the minions of president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to extract incriminating evidence against his rival, Rafsanjani, for presenting to the supreme ruler.
Mousavian was arrested in fact Thursday, April 26, after the American CBS television network quoted US intelligence as estimating that Iran had overcome the technical hitches holding up uranium enrichment processing and would therefore be able to manufacture enough high-grade uranium for a bomb by 2010.
Ahmadinejad’s first action on hearing the report was to order the security services to search for the source of the leak. They first suggested Hassan Rohani as the culprit. But the president was afraid to stick his neck out too far. Rohani is Khamenei’s personal representative in the National Security Council and his arrest would cause a major furor in the capital and seriously annoy the supreme ruler.
Rohani’s former deputy as nuclear negotiator was a safer bet.
Ahdmadinejad seeks to incriminate the pragmatists
Ahmadinejad and his following have consistently accused his predecessors and the former nuclear negotiating team of making concessions to foreigners which verge on the betrayal of the Islamic Republic’s national strategic interests.
At long last, he believed he had a captive who could supply the goods against his rivals after conducting a year-long witch hunt with no results. During that year, intelligence bodies under the president’s control carried out investigations against some of Iran’s most distinguished nuclear scientists. Two senior men were detained and released after a few days for lack of results. A third scientist died in mysterious circumstances in Shiraz last February, possibly under one such interrogation.
When Moussavian was first picked up, unofficial sources said he was suspected of corruption. Next day, the charge was switched to passing estimates and data relating to Iran’s nuclear capabilities to the American CIA.
The suspect was a frequent traveler and often undertook secret missions in Europe. Iran’s security services are taking advantage of the gray areas in which such missions are liable to venture to accuse him of illicit contacts with American undercover agents.
Thursday, the charges against Moussavian were even graver.
A senior Iranian source in Tehran assured DEBKA-Net-Weekly that the accusations against him were so serious that Rafsanjani could forget about springing him any time soon.
Whatever Moussavian may or may not be guilty of, his detention is being used by Ahmadinejad and his hardliners to warn off the faction seeking to persuade Khamenei to adopt a more compromising policy towards the West in order to remove the Iranian dossier from the UN Security Council’s agenda.
This faction led by Rafsanjani gained ground ahead of the radical president in recent weeks. They managed to get the president’s fiery nuclear rhetoric muzzled. Ahmadinejad was told to stick to a single mantra: Iran has an inalienable right to develop nuclear energy; and stop his unbridled insults on the West, especially America and Israel.
Furthermore, Khamenei entrusted a number of delicate missions on the nuclear issue to his international affairs adviser Ali Akbar Velayati, who served as foreign minister in the Rafsanjani presidency and stayed on under Khatami.
Dialogue with Washington – yes or no?
These setbacks were bitterly resented by the president and his fire-eating cronies, Revolutionary Guards commander Yahya Rahim Safavi and the deputy interior minister in charge of sensitive security matters, Mohammad Baqer Zolghadr, who is in line to take over from Safavi. They hunted high and low for a pretext to upset the concessionists’ applecart and found Moussavian.
The heated dispute on nuclear strategy ties in closely with the argument in the Iranian leadership over engaging Washington in dialogue.
The Bush administration put out contradictory feelers to Tehran in advance of the international conference on Iraq, which opened at Sharm el Sheikh Thursday, May 3, to test which way the wind was blowing. Washington had been received encouraging news from American informants that the pragmatic camp, which favored dialogue with Washington to hoist Iran out of its nuclear impasse with the international community, was gaining ground. The pragmatists in the Iranian regime were arguing, it was reported, that President George W. Bush was ripe for concessions to Iran for the sake of a badly-needed diplomatic breakthrough that would silence his enemies at home.
That argument led to the release of the former FBI agent Robert Levinson, who was picked up on the Iranian island of Kish on March 11. This goodwill gesture, it was hoped, would prompt the Americans to hand over the missing Iranian general Ali Reza Asgari and the Revolutionary Guards captured by US forces in Irbil in January.
Levinson was quietly allowed to cross into Iraqi Kurdistan the day before the Sharm el-Sheikh conference.
Tehran was never convinced he was an honest tourist working on a film in the strategic island, especially after an intelligence tip-off that Levinson was slated to head a new division of a security firm with a strong presence in Europe and Central Asia that would extend the company’s security and investigative operations to Latin America.
The clerical rulers of Iran are now waiting for some quid pro quo from Washington.