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An ill wind from Tehran

By JAMES ZUMWALT, UPI Outside View Commentator   |   May 21, 2013 at 12:04 AM   |   Comments

HERNDON, Va., May 21 (UPI) -- With Iran's registration for presidential applicants closed, the West awaits the outcome of Tehran's June 14 election. But, for Iran's clerics, the outcome is probably already known.

When registration to run for Iran's highest political office ended May 11, more than 680 applicants had filed for candidacy. The next step is for the country's Guardian Council to determine who is qualified to run. With so many names that might seem like a daunting task but, in reality, it isn't.

It is important first to understand the relationship between the Guardian Council and Iran's top spiritual leader, Ali Khamenei, to whom the president answers.

The Guardian Council consists of 12 men. Six must be experts in Islamic law "conscious of the present needs and the issues of the day." They are personally selected by Khamenei, Iran's supreme leader.

The remaining six members must be jurists "specializing in different areas of law." Although not selected by the supreme leader, they are elected by Iran's parliament from among those nominated by the head judge -- who is appointed by Khamenei.

Thus, whether directly or indirectly, Khamenei wields influence over all 12.

The bottom line: No presidential candidate receives approval without Khamenei's support.

Since 30 percent of the registered candidates were women, 204 applicants are immediately dropped as Iran's constitution prohibits them from running. Only a handful of the remainder, whose names have already been floated by Khamenei to the Guardian Council, will make the final cut. The Guardian Council will announce who will run by Thursday.

There was some excitement among Iranians as a last-minute registrant was Hashemi Rafsanjani -- a previous president and one of Khamenei's antagonists after the 2009 election was stolen from the people by the supreme leader and his re-elected cohort President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

While Iranian newspapers promote Rafsanjani as a reformist, the West shouldn't get its hopes up.

Despite Rafsanjani's opposition to the 2009 presidential election results and confrontation with Khamenei, indications are the two have made nice. Rafsanjani wouldn't have registered without knowing he would make the cut by obtaining Khamenei's prior approval. And, by approving Rafsanjani, Khamenei gives the appearance of credibility to the presidential field.

When Rafsanjani -- considered a founding father of the Islamic Revolution -- ran for the presidency in 1989, he was approved by Khamenei who had just succeeded his predecessor as supreme leader. Rafsanjani became Iran's fourth president.

Rafsanjani was perceived to be a man of the people; the reality was he brutally eliminated opposition to Iran's theocracy -- even those residing outside the country. From a life of poverty, theocratic control and corruption enabled him to become a "mullah with moolah." As president, he amassed a personal fortune, now estimated at more than $1 billion dollars but left Iran's economy in shambles.

Hundreds of intellectuals were purged under Rafsanjani -- imprisoned, tortured or simply disappeared. Some dissidents were beaten to death.

As mentioned, Iran's borders posed no obstacle to Rafsanjani's brutal reach as he authorized numerous terrorist attacks abroad, including the 1994 bombing of a Jewish community center in Argentina. This resulted in the issuance in November 2006 of a warrant by an Argentine judge for Rafsanjani's arrest.

(This was in addition to a 1997 German criminal court's conviction of an Iranian hit squad for killing four dissidents, ruling they had acted upon orders from a special committee of which the controlling members were Rafsanjani and Khamenei.)

Most telling about Rafsanjani are comments he has made displaying callousness for human life.

Reflecting upon targeting foreigners for terrorist attack, he once observed: "It is not difficult to kill Americans or Frenchmen. It is a bit difficult to kill (Israelis). But there are so many (Americans and Frenchmen) everywhere in the world."

More foreboding was a 2001 comment alluding to the future use of nuclear weapons by Iran, a statement made when it wasn't known Rafsanjani that had already initiated a secret nuclear weapons development program: "The use of even one nuclear bomb inside Israel will destroy everything. However, it will only harm the Islamic world. It is not irrational to contemplate such an eventuality."

(Of course, such a naive comment demonstrates Rafsanjani's failure to understand Iranian nukes would release radiation which would then spread to other Muslim countries and to recognize the subsequent devastation that would be caused by an Israeli retaliatory strike from its submarine force.)

But such comments by a "man of the cloth" are most telling about how clerics and other Islamic fanatics view their religion to be committed to the destruction of non-believers.

With the United Nation's top nuclear inspector recently announcing (unsurprisingly) that the 10th round of talks this year concerning Iran's nuclear program have ended without agreement and no date for new talks, with the United States accepting such lack of progress due to the June 14 presidential election, with Iran's success under Khamenei getting it closer to its nuclear goal line, with Khamenei's final approval attaching only to a president who will support his policies, with Iran's demonstrated knack for dragging out the nuclear talks until the U.S. effort to prevent Tehran from getting nukes transitions into one of then trying to contain Iran's use of them, the West needs to recognize, even with a new president, an ill wind will still prevails in Tehran.

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(Lt. Col. James G. Zumwalt, a retired Marine infantry officer, served in the Vietnam war, the U.S. invasion of Panama and the first Gulf War. He is the author of "Bare Feet, Iron Will--Stories from the Other Side of Vietnam's Battlefields," "Living the Juche Lie: North Korea's Kim Dynasty" and "Doomsday: Iran--The Clock is Ticking." He frequently writes on foreign policy and defense issues.)

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(United Press International's "Outside View" commentaries are written by outside contributors who specialize in a variety of important issues. The views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of United Press International. In the interests of creating an open forum, original submissions are invited.)

© 2013 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
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