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Khamenei's warnings on FATF fail to stem inner-feuds among regime officials

The controversy around FATF in Iran and the Supreme Leader’s warnings
The controversy around FATF in Iran and the Supreme Leader’s warnings

Iran, March 19,2019 - Increasing infightings and quarrels among different factions of the ruling elite in Iran has compelled the Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei to step forth and warn about the outcome of the current power struggle.

Currently, one of the biggest controversies for the Iranian regime is the required bills to join the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), the world’s de facto financial transparency body.

And for the ruling theocracy in Iran, the issue cuts to the bone of its philosophy.

For the reasonable minds among us, what FATF asks for (and offers in return) is justified at least for humanity’s collective security and even tremendous for some countries who are honestly fighting corruption and terrorism and struggle to bring their economies to prosper.

But to the ruling despots in Iran it’s either accepting deal and distancing itself from all the corruption that fills the elite’s pockets and discontinuing to finance proxy terrorists in the region and around the world or further economic isolation which leads to an accelerated downfall of the economy and more popular unrest in return.

Ahmad Alamolhoda, a hardline Iranian cleric and representative of Ali Khamenei in Mashhad province, attacked the proponents of the FATF bills in last Friday’s prayers and said: “We need to trust in God [and] don’t fear anything. We shouldn’t come and say, the enemy has proposed to us to come and approve and bill; Come into my trap on your own accord. So, we become scared and say we should do this, and our official says [we should do this] so America has no excuse.”

Proponents of FATF, on the other hand, argue that if the bills are not approved, more isolation awaits.

Mohammadreza Khabbaz, close to Hassan Rouhani’s faction and former governor of North Khorasan and Semnan provinces, complains: “Currently, the enemy expects us to distance ourselves from international institutions so that we face isolation. [In return] we shouldn’t allow them to find new excuses against us by not joining the FATF… By not joining the FATF, we’ll giving the enemy excuses.”

Last week, in the final statement after its sixth official session, the Assembly of Experts—which is supposedly responsible for appointing and dismissing the Supreme Leader—said, “It is considered a strategic mistake if the Islamic Republic joins international conventions like Palermo, CFT, etc. to deprive the enemy of excuses,” referring to the FATF bills.

Saeed Jalili, the regime’s former nuclear negotiator and secretary of the Supreme National Security Council and a member of the Expediency Discernment Council where the fate of the bills in question is at stake, said: “How much are the country’s economic difficulties linked to the executive branch and internal management and how much to sanctions and how much to this [or that] convention? Today, the majority of the country’s pundits and activists in the economy say that 80 percent of today’s economic situation is linked to internal problems and it is about management. Customs, insurance, and tax [problems] need to be solved.”

Ahvaz’s Friday prayer Imam, Abolhassan Hassanzadeh, reveals how the current controversy is shaking Iran’s power structure to the core: “Don’t accuse each other of assisting the enemy. Sometimes in the face of events, feelings are uncontrolled. Feelings need to be controlled, but the youth and the nation’s religious and revolutionary forces must not feel disaffected.”

Abolfazl Zohrevand, Iran’s former ambassador to Afghanistan, considers the FATF bills a surrender and says: “Let’s suppose that Palermo and CFT are approved. Will there be an opening [in economic and diplomatic relations]? Or is the FATF issue like the JCPOA case where they said that it will bring food on our tables? It doesn’t help if we surrender this much.”

The past four decades have shown that whenever the Iranian regime faces controversy and inner dispute, especially in its foreign relations, the Supreme Leader enters the stage personally and appeals to both factions for restraint and unity.

But this time, immediately following Khamenei’s remarks, the quarrels continue, especially by his own faction who interpreted his remarks as an opening for increasing their attacks.

Khamenei’s doublespeak, his inability to curb the tensions, and rein the factions—even his own—is a hallmark of the dead-end that the regime faces in its entirety.