Former Iranian President Rafsanjani dead at age 82

Influential former Iranian leader Rafsanjani dead at age 82

TEHRAN, Iran — Former Iranian President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, a wily political survivor and multimillionaire mogul who remained among the ruling elite despite moderate views, died Sunday, state TV reported. He was 82.

Iranian media reported earlier Sunday that he was taken to a hospital north of Tehran because of a heart condition. State television broke into programming to announce his death, the female newscaster's voice quivering as she read the news.

She said Rafsanjani, "after a life full of restless efforts in the path of Islam and revolution, had departed for lofty heaven."

Rafsanjani's mix of sly wit and reputation for cunning moves — both in politics and business — earned him a host of nicknames such as Akbar Shah, or Great King, during a life that touched every major event in Iranian affairs since before the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

His presence — whether directly or through back channels — was felt in many forms. He was a steady leader in the turbulent years following the overthrow of the U.S.-backed shah, a veteran warrior in the country's internal political battles and a covert go-between in intrigue such as the Iran-Contra arms deals in the 1980s.

He also was handed an unexpected political resurgence in his later years.

The surprise presidential election in 2013 of Rafsanjani's political soul mate, Hassan Rouhani, gave the former president an insider role in reform-minded efforts that included Rouhani's push for direct nuclear talks with Washington.

Rouhani's victory was also another example of Rafsanjani's remarkable political luck. Rafsanjani was blocked from the ballot by Iran's election overseers — presumably worried about boosting his already wide-ranging influence. But, in the end, many moderates turned to Rouhani as an indirect vote for Rafsanjani.

It came after years of dwindling influence. Another presidential comeback bid was snuffed out by Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's surprise victory in 2005 elections.

Rafsanjani was a close aide of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the leader of the 1979 Islamic Revolution, and went on to serve as president from 1989 to 1997 during a period of significant changes in Iran. At the time, the country was struggling to rebuild its economy after a devastating 1980-88 war with Iraq, while also cautiously allowing some wider freedoms, as seen in Iran's highly regarded film and media industry.

He also oversaw key developments in Iran's nuclear program by negotiating deals with Russia to build an energy-producing reactor in Bushehr, which finally went into service in 2011 after long delays. Behind the scenes, he directed the secret purchase of technology and equipment from Pakistan and elsewhere.

Rafsanjani managed to remain within the ruling theocracy after leaving office, but any dreams of taking on a higher-profile elder statesman role collapsed with Ahmadinejad's disputed re-election in 2009 and the intense crackdown that followed. Rafsanjani's harsh criticism of Ahmadinejad branded him as a dissenter in the eyes of many conservatives.

In a sign of his waning powers, Rafsanjani's stance cost him his position as one of the Friday prayer leaders at Tehran University, a highly influential position that often is the forum for significant policy statements.

But some analysts believe that Rafsanjani was kept within the ruling fold as a potential mediator with America and its allies in the standoff over Iran's nuclear program. His past stature as a trusted Khomeini ally also offered him political protection. Rafsanjani was a top commander in the war with Iraq and played a key role in convincing Khomeini to accept a cease-fire as it became clear that extending the stalemate could pose a crippling drain on Iran's economy.

Nearly 25 years later, Rafsanjani tried to revive his credentials among a new generation of reformers by recounting proposals he made to Khomeini in the late 1980s to consider outreach to the United States, still seen by hard-liners as the "Great Satan."

His image, however, also had darker undertones. He was named by prosecutors in Argentina among Iranian officials suspected of links to a 1994 bombing of a Jewish center in Buenos Aires that left 85 people dead. Some Iranian reformers accused him of involvement in the slaying of liberals and dissidents during his presidency — charges that were never pursued by Iranian authorities.

"The title of Islamic Republic is not just a formality," he said in 2009 in the chaos after Ahmadinejad's re-election.

"Rest assured, if one of those two aspects is damaged we will lose our revolution. If it loses its Islamic aspect, we will go astray. If it loses its republican aspect, (the Islamic Republic) will not be realized. Based on the reasons that I have offered, without people and their vote there would be no Islamic system."

© The Associated Press FILE -- In this Dec. 21, 2015 file photo, former Iranian President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani waves to journalists as he registers his candidacy for the elections of the Experts Assembly, in Tehran, Iran.

Former Iranian President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani dead

Former Iranian President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, an influential power broker in the Islamic Republic who advised the country's supreme leader, died Sunday after he was hospitalized for a heart condition, according to Iranian state media. He was 82.

The official IRNA news agency reported earlier in the day that Rafsanjani had been taken to a public hospital north of the capital, Tehran. The semi-official ISNA news agency quoted Mohammad Hashemi, his brother, as saying that Rafsanjani was in good condition.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani reportedly visited Rafsanjani in the hospital and a short time later the former president was dead.

"With the death of Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, one of the two pillars and key to the equilibrium of the religious fascism ruling Iran has collapsed and the regime in its entirety is approaching overthrow," said Maryam Rajavi, the president-elect of the National Council of Resistance of Iran, in a statement. "Over the past 38 years, whether under Khomeini or afterwards, Rafsanjani played a critical role in suppression at home and export of terrorism abroad as well as in the quest to acquire nuclear weapons."
Rafsanjani, who served as president from 1989 to 1997, was a leading politician who has often played kingmaker in the country's turbulent politics. He supported Rouhani.

Rafsanjani was also a heavyweight behind Iran's nuclear program, including the push for its weaponization.

A central player in the Islamic Revolution, the former Iranian president was alleged to be behind numerous terror attacks. He openly called for the killing of Americans and other Westerners.

Nicknamed "The Shark," Rafsanjani was also nefarious for purging political opponents and intellectuals.

Rafsanjani was the current head of the Expediency Council, a body that advises Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and in March he won a seat on a clerical body that will one day decide Khamenei's successor.

Death of Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani Is Blow to Iran Reform Movement

TEHRAN — Iran’s political hierarchy was roiled with new uncertainty on Sunday from the death of Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, a former president and influential voice who had supported improved relations with the United States and other Western powers.

Mr. Rafsanjani, 82, was also regarded a protector of what was left of Iran’s marginalized reformist movement and others with more moderate views than the conservative hard-line clerics who hold sway in Iran’s security forces and judiciary.

He supported Hassan Rouhani, the current president, who is now suddenly bereft of a powerful and influential background figure with Islamic revolutionary credentials that could not be questioned. Mr. Rafsanjani also was a longtime comrade of the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, although the two had their disagreements.

Mr. Rafsanjani’s death from a stroke, which was announced Sunday on state television, came as Iran is struggling to emerge from years of economic isolation and is facing new uncertainties in its estranged relations with the United States.

President-elect Donald J. Trump has expressed strong disapproval of the international nuclear agreement between Iran and six major powers, including the United States, that eased sanctions on Iran in exchange for verifiable guarantees that its nuclear work remains peaceful.

Mr. Rafsanjani’s absence could embolden the extreme anti-American elements of Iran’s leadership and further dampen the prospects of any improvement in relations with the United States.

His death is also considered a huge blow for Iran’s reformists and moderates for whom he was a leader and figurehead.

“He will be missed,” said Farshad Ghorbanpour, a political analyst close to the reformists. “He was increasingly powerless, but gave us hope. Now we will have to do without him.”

Mr. Khamenei, in a statement on his official website, said, “The loss of a comrade and ally, with whom I share a friendship that dates back to 59 years ago, is difficult and heart-rending.”

He praised Mr. Rafsanjani for his “high intelligence”, terming him a dependable figure “for those who worked with him, particularly me.” Mr. Khamenei also said their differences in views over the years “could never break this friendship.”

Mr. Rafsanjani had a long career as a revolutionary, but was also suspected of accumulating great wealth and influence in the process. He was one of the leaders of the 1979 Islamic revolution, and an aide to the founder of the Islamic republic, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. He also played a kingmaker role in picking Ayatollah Khamenei, Ayatollah Khomeini’s successor.

“He was one of the most influential figures before and after the revolution,” said Ali Khorram, Iran’s former ambassador to China.

Mr. Rafsanjani’s death means that Mr. Rouhani is now the main leader of those calling for change in Iran.

The former reformist president Mohammad Khatami has more support from ordinary Iranians, but has been nearly silenced by hard-liners, who do not allow him to appear on television or have his image published in newspapers.

Mr. Rafsanjani was president from 1989 to 1997. But after his presidency, political rivals, jealous of his grip on the economy, seized on his support for reformists and labeled him an “aristocrat,” a “capitalist” and a supporter of “American Islam”

By 2002, his political stock had fallen so low he could not even muster the votes to win a seat in Parliament. He sustained a humiliating defeat against Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in the 2005 presidential election.

After his election loss, Mr. Rafsanjani was propelled into the role of a critical politician, increasingly at odds with Mr. Khamenei over the direction the revolution should take. Where Iran’s supreme leader backed the continuation of a harsh, anti-Western ideological line, Mr. Rafsanjani pleaded for an update of the political system, bringing it on par with Iran’s changing society.

His speech in favor of greater freedom during the enormous 2009 protests that followed a presidential election in which the results were widely seen as fraudulent alienated him from Iran’s conservative clerics and military commanders.

In 2013, attempting a political comeback at 79, he was barred from seeking the presidency by the Guardian Council, a decision that shocked Iranians. The disqualification seemed like an official repudiation of his ideas of a liberal economy and more freedoms.

In 2015, his son, Mehdi Hashemi, a hated figure among Iranian hard-liners, was given a 15-year prison sentence after he was convicted of bribery and embezzlement.

In 2016, his daughter, Faezeh Hashemi, sparked a debate on religious persecution in Iran by visiting the female leader of the persecuted Bahai religious minority. The two women had met in prison, when Ms. Hashemi was serving a six-month sentence for “spreading propaganda against the system.”

The semiofficial Fars news agency is reporting that Mr. Rafsanjani will be buried on Tuesday in a state funeral. Schools, offices and governmental organizations will be closed for several days.

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