New York Times: The man nominated to serve as Iran’s defense minister is wanted by Interpol in connection with the 1994 bombing of a Jewish cultural center in Buenos Aires, confronting Iran with yet another challenge to its international reputation after an electoral dispute undermined its legitimacy at home and abroad.
The New York Times
By MICHAEL SLACKMAN
CAIRO — The man nominated to serve as Iran’s defense minister is wanted by Interpol in connection with the 1994 bombing of a Jewish cultural center in Buenos Aires, confronting Iran with yet another challenge to its international reputation after an electoral dispute undermined its legitimacy at home and abroad.
President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad nominated Ahmad Vahidi on Wednesday to serve as defense minister when he submitted his list of 21 nominees to Parliament. Mr. Vahidi was the head of the secret Quds Force, an arm of the Revolutionary Guards that carries out operations overseas.
He was one of five Iranian officials sought by Interpol on Argentine charges of “conceiving, planning, financing and executing” the 1994 attack, which killed 85 people and wounded hundreds, said a statement issued by the Anti-Defamation League condemning the nomination.
The hand of Tehran was suspected early in the investigation. However, some criminal justice experts have raised questions recently about Iran’s having had a direct role in the attack, saying it was more likely the work of an Iranian proxy group, Hezbollah, and others in South America.
It was unclear Friday night how Iranian officials might react to the complaints from abroad about Mr. Vahidi, but the issue of Mr. Ahmadinejad’s cabinet choices was already a problem for the president. Leaders in the conservative-dominated Parliament, which must approve all cabinet appointments, have said they expect to reject as many as five nominees as unqualified — another sign of the conflict set off by the disputed presidential election in June.
Mr. Ahmadinejad and his allies have failed to silence the critics or even to present a veneer of political unity since the election, and each week seems to bring a new chapter in the worst political crisis to confront Iran since its revolution in 1979. On Friday, the head of Iran’s powerful Guardian Council called for the arrest of the leaders of the protests that swept the nation after the election.
In a fiery and combative speech at a Friday Prayer ceremony in Tehran, Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati argued that justice demanded the arrest of the leaders, not only the rank and file. He never explicitly named Mir Hussein Moussavi or Mehdi Karroubi, the two presidential candidates who have led the protests. But it was clear whom he meant.
“Implementing justice is not easy when you have to grab the throats of the bigwigs, and they should be confronted first,” Ayatollah Jannati said from the stage in a stadium-size prayer hall at Tehran University. “Otherwise, it is easy to confront petty thieves and nobodies.”
It was not the first time that a high-ranking official had called for the arrest of the two men, who have refused to back down from the charges that Mr. Ahmadinejad and his allies stole the election through fraud and vote rigging. But by not naming names, it was unclear if Ayatollah Jannati was trying to prepare public opinion for the eventual arrests, or if he was holding back to avoid pushing the country deeper into crisis.
“What is true is the unprecedented degree of internal divisions,” said a Western diplomat who worked in Iran for years but asked not to be identified, in accordance with diplomatic protocol. “Yet, because the regime itself has taken stock of the danger, all the different players are refraining from pushing things toward a real crisis.”
In his speech, Ayatollah Jannati, a close ally of the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, asked judicial officials why so many people had been arrested but not those who led them. Since the election, thousands of protesters and opposition figures have been taken into custody. While most have been released, the state has begun three mass trials in which former high-ranking officials, journalists and intellectuals have been paraded into courtrooms in pajamas and accused of helping to promote the overthrow of the government through a velvet revolution.
“The recent riots and disturbances were an injustice against Islam and the revolution and the nation and people’s regime was targeted,” Ayatollah Jannati said. “Some were arrested in these events, but those who were behind this calamity and had led it were not arrested.”
In the days since the contested election and the ensuing government crackdown, Mr. Moussavi has kept a relatively low profile, communicating mostly through his Web site and surrogates. Mr. Karroubi, a cleric who was an early supporter of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the founder of the Islamic republic, has emerged as the most aggressive critic of the system. He made public charges that men and women arrested during the protests were being raped in prisons — charges the state has noy yet fully addressed or silenced.
At the same time, the leadership, including the political and clerical elite, finds itself increasingly divided into competing camps. Parliament is scheduled to consider the cabinet nominations on Sunday. But that matter may prove to be more easily handled than the charges of prison rape.
Addressing the Islamic Society of Engineers this week, Ali Larijani, the speaker of Parliament, eased off his initial insistence that the rape charges were unfounded.
“I announced that they submit evidence if any relevant documents are available,” Mr. Larijani told the engineers society. “If Mr. Karroubi is willing, we will listen to him.”