Iran File

The Iran File is an analysis and assessment of the Islamic Republic of Iran’s strategic efforts domestically and abroad.

Hardliners Yield Back on Attacks, for Now

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Forecast: Iranian hardliners appear to be reaching regime red-lines that will limit their further attacks on President Hassan Rouhani and his allies, at least for a time. Hardline parliamentarians seek to impeach increasingly prominent allies of Rouhani. They previously forced the removal of several senior economic officials from office including the former labor and finance ministers. They have recently expanded their attacks to Rouhani allies not directly responsible for Iran’s economic management. They attempted to interpellate Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani to damage their political reputations and possibly diminish domestic support for pending Financial Action Task Force (FATF) legislation. The collapse of these efforts suggests that Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei has signaled his unwillingness to let the hardliners attack such high-profile members of the regime’s leadership team, at least for now.

Hardliners recently failed to impeach prominent centrists and will not soon garner the necessary support to do so in the future. Hardliner parliamentarians attempted to interpellate Zarif and Larijani in recent weeks, but failed to secure enough parliamentarian signatures to initiate any interpellation.[1] The interpellation attempts follow months of internal dispute over pending reform to Iran’s anti-money laundering laws. Zarif and Larijani support reformist efforts to amend such laws. This reform would help Iran comply with FATF standards and make investment in Iran more attractive to international investors. These efforts are also important because they would encourage European companies and states to defy the re-imposition of U.S. sanctions, thus potentially preserving some of the economic benefits of the nuclear deal—or so Zarif and Rouhani appear to believe. *Zarif’s and Larijani’s interpellation plans initially accrued the necessary number of signatures to summon the two before Parliament, yet failed shortly thereafter due to hardliners retracting their support.

Hardliners attempted to interpellate *Zarif and *Larijani over their support for FATF legislation. Hardliner action against Zarif came in response to Zarif’s *claim that a high level of money laundering is a “reality” in Iran benefitting many unspecified individuals during an interview on November 11. Zarif’s remark sparked many criticisms against him from hardliners in Iran’s *Parliament and *Judiciary. Zarif was likely referring to Iran’s clergy and Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), who largely comprise the hardliner base. Hardliners separately attempted to interpellate Larijani on November 27 due to his alleged mishandling of FATF legislation. Hardliners *accused Larijani of blocking an open parliamentary vote on two FATF bills that Parliament had previously approved but to which the Guardian Council and the Expediency Discernment Council (EDC) had *raised objections.  

Hardliners presumably realized that their attacks against Zarif and Larijani lacked the necessary support from either Parliament or Khamenei. This lack of support likely resulted in hardline parliamentarians withdrawing their signatures. The move against Zarif was contentious even among hardliners and prompted intra-factional dispute. A conservative Iranian media outlet’s senior staff *published an editorial telling hardliners it was the “wrong time” to interpellate Zarif. Hardliners will need to unify together, and likely receive Khamenei’s implicit approval, before they will remove prominent figures like Zarif or Larijani.

Hardliners may use impeachment threats against vocal moderates again to reduce support for FATF legislation, however. Hardliners think that threatening the impeachment of reformists who support anti-money laundering legislation and other reforms that make Iran’s economy more transparent will diminish reformist support for such legislation. Reformist efforts to pass such amendments would cause financial harm to hardliners and IRGC officials who benefit from the opaque economy. Hardliners have opposed FATF legislation in Iran’s Parliament and Guardian Council, yet reformists continue making the case for the legislation’s ratification. Mounting U.S. economic pressure on Iran will add to the reformists’ case that Iran must promote business transparency through the FATF legislations’ approval. Conservative parliamentarians may reignite calls for Zarif’s, Larijani’s, or other FATF proponents’ interpellation in the future to discourage support for Iran’s desperately needed reforms.

[1] Parliamentarians that signed Zarif’s interpellation motion included the following: Ahad Azadikhah, Ahmad Salek, Amir Khojasteh, Gholam Reza Sharafi, Hassan Nowruzi, Hossein Ali Hajji Deligani, Jalal Mahmoud Zadeh, Jamshid Jafar Pour, Javad Karimi Ghodousi, Mahmoud Shekari, Mohammad Ali Pormokhtar, Mohammad Esmaeil Saeedi, Abolfazl Aboutorabi, Mohammad Hassan Nejad, Mohsen Kouhkan, Nader Ghazi Pour, Nasrollah Pejman Far, Seyyed Naser Mousavi Larigani, Seyyed Razi Nouri, Seyyed Mohammad Javad Abtahi, Seyyed Sadegh Tabatabaei Nejad, Shahab Naderi, Abbas Goudarzi, Ziaollah Ezazi Maleki. Parliamentarians that signed the motion to interpellate Larijani included the following: Hossein Ali Hajji Deligani, Hojjat ol Eslam Alireza Salimi, Sohrab Gilani, Javad Karimi Ghodousi, Seyyed Javad Hosseini Kia, Ziaollah Ezazi Maleki, Akbar Torki, Seyyed Naser Mousavi Larigani, Amer Kaabi, Nasrollah Pejman Far, Majid Naseri Nejad, Seyyed Hossein Naghavi Hosseini, Abbas Goudarzi, Mohammad Esmaeil Saeedi, Ahmad Salek, Abdollah Sameri, Hassan Nowruzi, Zabih Nikfar Leylastani, Mahmoud Shekari, Sodeyf Badri, Seyyed Ghasem Jasemi, Seyyed Ehsan Ghazi Zadeh, Seyyed Javad Sadati Nejad, Abbas Ali Pour Bafarani, Seyyed Razi Nouri, Hojjat ol Eslam Mojtaba Zolnouri, and Seyyed Javad Abtahi.

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