While the world catches its breath after the sudden resignation of Iran’s top nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani, questions are being asked about the background and beliefs of his successor, Saeed Jalili. The answers, it turns out, are troubling.
Until today, not much has been known about the 41 year old gray-haired official. He has a PhD from Imam Sadegh University in Tehran. As a soldier during the Iraq-Iran war, he apparently survived a chemical attack by Saddam Hussein’s forces.
Sometime later during the war he was shot in his right leg which according to one report had to be amputated. According to the same report, since then Jalili has worn an artificial leg. He is a known follower of Khomeini’s “simple living” lifestyle philosophy. During his stint as a Foreign Ministry official he served at a number of departments where, apparently, he did not make use of amenities made available to employees. For example, he continued to drive an inexpensive KIA Pride to work instead of trading it in for a more luxurious car.
As the Foreign Ministry Deputy Head of the American and European section at the Foreign Ministry, Jalili is known to have worked until the early hours of the morning in his office in his efforts to strengthen the co-operation of Iran with Southern hemisphere countries. This was part of the “south-south” strategy, according to which it was believed that Ahmadinejad’s government would be able to look for and find alliances with countries such as Venezuela. It is also reported that that Ahmadinejad has consulted Jalili on a number of key moves — according to one report, Ahmadinejad’s infamous 18 page letter to President Bush was, in fact, Jalili’s idea.
The most worrying revelation about Jalili’s past appeared today in the Iran Diplomacy website. This Tehran-based news agency, in an article titled “Dr Ali Leaves, Dr Saeed Enters” revealed that for most of his career at the Foreign Ministry, Jalili worked closely with Mojtaba Hashemi Samare, a leading messianic and a close ally of Ayatollah Mesbah Yazdi, the most well-known and high-ranking messianic cleric in Iran. The article talks about how Jalili cooperated with Hashemi Samare in the Inspectorate department of Ministry. It also mentions that for a short time, Jalili also worked with Ahmadinejad.
Ayatollah Mesbah Yazdi is a former member of the Hojattieh, a messianic splinter group which was disbanded by Ayatollah Khomeini in the early 1980s because of its extremist views. The sect’s goals are to sow chaos — the goal of which is to incite a massive war, presumably necessary to speed up the return of the Shiite messiah, known as the Mahdi.
After the forced disintegration of the sect, Mesbah Yazdi moved to the holy city of Qom, where he ran the Imam Khomeini Foundation and the Haghaniye school. From there, he passed on his messianic beliefs to young clerics and revolutionaries whom he hoped one day would reach senior government levels. One of his early successes was Hashemi Samare, who in the early 90s managed to find a position inside Iran’s Foreign Ministry. He soon rose through the ranks and became one of the key officials at the Ministry. His main job there was to make sure that Iranian ambassadors were staying true to revolutionary beliefs and Islamic ways while serving abroad. He soon developed a much-feared reputation for recalling diplomats and even ambassadors whom he suspected of becoming Westernized. Some were locked inside the basement of the Foreign Ministry for days, where, using interrogation techniques including physical violence, he “re-educated” them. Another important characteristic of Hashemi Samare was that in his office, instead of a picture of Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Khamenei, he hung a portrait of the messianic Mesbah Yazdi. He showed no fear about showing where his true allegiances lay. It should be noted that the presence of such people with such extreme views in the Iranian government has contributed greatly to its image as a fundamentalist government.
During his entire career, Hashemi Samare has looked for, and recruited fellow messianics. No one else would be allowed to work with him. In the 1990s, one of these associates included a very little known war veteran and bureaucrat called Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who for a very short while, worked for him at the Iranian Foreign Ministry. After that Ahmadinejad was posted to the Ardebil province where he became the governor. The two men continuously maintained contact and upon his return to Tehran in 1997, their friendship and cooperation continued. Today, Hashemi Samare is Ahmadinejad’s deputy and most trusted confidant. He can be seen everywhere with the President, especially during foreign travel, such as his recent trip to New York, and when receiving for senior foreign visitors such as Putin. Some former reformists have even said that while praying, Ahmadinejad stands behind Hashemi Samare; an unmistakable sign of respect and adherence which a person can show to his mentor in Iranian religious circles.
Jalili’s closeness with Hashemi Samare, and his appointment as the head of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council (SNSC) and as the head of Iran’s nuclear negotiation team shows that the messianics have scored another major victory in placing one of their allies in a senior political position. Now they can boast that, along with holding positions of power in the Ministry of Intelligence (Gholam Hosssein Ejehi), Ministry of Interior (Mostafa Pour Mohammadi), and, of course, the Presidency (Mahmoud Ahmadinejad) – by having Saeed Jalili as chief nuclear negotiator, they now have a stronger say over how Iran deals with the West over its nuclear program.
Despite this power, the messianics will still find a strong obstacle, in the form of Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Khamenei, who, for now, has the last word on Iran’s nuclear program.
The increasing presence of messianics and their allies in high ranking positions inside the Iranian government will make it much more difficult for Western governments to believe that Iran’s leadership will at any point in the near future be ready to find a negotiated settlement for the current crisis.
Meir Javedanfar is the co-author of The Nuclear Sphinx of Tehran – Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the State of Iran. He runs the Middle East Economic and Political Analysis (Meepas)