'Great men of history never die'
Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani was an influential Iranian politician since the 1979 Islamic Revolution enjoying a white track record in foreign policy and improving Iran's relations with the world.
Ayatollah Rasanjani passed away at the age of 82 on Sunday due to a heart attack in Tehran's Tajrish hospital, a big blow to the Iranian nation and Revolution's followers.
The death of Iran’s first-generation Revolutionary, known for his great role in founding the Islamic Revolution as a longtime companion of Imam Khomeini (PBUH) shed light on his previous measures as a president, Parliament speaker, member of Council of Islamic Revolution, Leader representative in Supreme Defense Council (SDC) in Iraq war, Deputy Commander-in-Chief and president of the Assembly of Experts in different stages of his life.
He was known for his great contributions to the Islamic Revolution, improving Iranian economy, foreign policy and boken ties with the international community, especially the regional states, at different points, when he was Iranian president (1989 to 1997), chair of the Assembly of Experts or the Expediency Council.
He kept his high-profile role even after his presidency as a key consultor for the Leader and other officials in running the country and making important decisions.
He was a close friend to the Leader of Islamic Revolution Ayatollah Khamenei who he said in his emotional condolence message for Rafsanjani's loss, that "with the passing of Hashemi, there is no other person I know of with whom I share the long and common experiences of the highs and lows of these historic times." Ayatollah Khamenei called him an "old friend" who was a helpful companion in the years of the Islamic struggle.
Rafsanjani was born on 25 August 1934 in the village of Bahreman near the Persian city of Rafsanjan in Kerman province. He studied theology in the city of Qom with Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini (PBUH), whose close follower he became.
Rafsanjani survived two assassination attempts, one only months after the revolution, when he was shot in the stomach by gunmen who broke into his house claiming to hold a clandestine message. During the attack, his wife jumped in front to shield him from the attack. Neither were seriously wounded.
After the incident, Ayatollah Khomeini said in announcing that Rafsanjani had survived, "great men of history do not die."
The second attempt occurred in February 1994, when a lone gunman fired at him as he was speaking to mark the 15th anniversary of the Revolution. Unhurt and unshaken, Rafsanjani calmed a crowd of thousands and continued his speech.
He was one of the opponents of Shah's regime and contributed a great deal of his youth to fighting against the Shah and representing Imam Khomeint, during which he was arrested for 7 times from 1960 until 1979 and was in jail for four years and 5 months in total, guilty of activities against Pahlavi regime.
During his lifetime, Rafsanjani tried making Iran a hub for international business activities by introducing various economic reforms.
Iraq-imposed war era
Rafsanjani played a very important role during the eight years of the Iraq-imposed war, while serving as the acting commander-in-chief of the armed forces.
When he was the Second-in-Command of Iran's Joint Chiefs of Staff in the last year of Iran-Iraq war, he played an important role in ending war. Three years ago, speaking among reporters Hashemi said "I recommended Imam Khomeini to adopt United Nations Security Council Resolution 598; without signing the Resolution, Tabriz, Tehran and Isfahan were subject to chemical attacks with Franch and Russian aircrafts leaving thousands of casualties.
"After Iraq invaded Kuwait, some of the officials asked for supporting Saddam Hussein; we did not support Saddam and even accepted Kuwaiti refugees; the world trusted us and sanctions were broken," he told reporters.
Following the deteriorations in foreign relations during the war, Rafsanjani made great contributions to rebiulding ties with Europe, Arab states, and neighboring countries, especially the ones in Central Asia and the Caucasus.
One year after war, he was elected as Iran's fourth president in 1989. Ayatollah Hashemi Rafsanjani despite the devastation of post-war adopted constructive decisions, including improvements in foreign ties, nuclear power, and economic reforms.
Foreign policy of the Islamic Republic of Iran spent its most important phase during the presidency of Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani. On one hand, the Iraq-imposed war had been ended and on the other hand the world was on the brink of profound change; the end of the Cold War and the beginning of a new era in global politics where the era of ideological competition was finished, formed the two main themes of the fundamentals of practical change in the foreign policy of the Islamic Republic of Iran in post-war era.
Rafsanjani underlined the detente in his foreign policy and due to the requirements resulting from living in an international interconnected system, realistic approaches gradually appeared in Iranian foreign policy.
He adopted an economy-first policy, supporting a privatization policy against more state-owned economic tendencies in the Islamic Republic.
The presence of Seyed Mohsen Nourbakhsh at the head of the Ministry of Economy, Bijan Namdar Zanganeh in the Ministry of Energy, Nematzadeh in the Ministry of Industry, Aghazadeh in the Ministry of Petroleum, Kalantari in the Ministry of Agriculture, Mahlouji in the Ministry of Mines, Nejad Husseinian in heavy industry and Vahhaji in Minsitrey of Commerce, gave an economic flavor to Rafsanjani's first cabinet.
His first term faced with a situation of severe budget deficit close to 50%, during which Rafsanjani could turn the budget crisis to the balanced status during his eight-year tenure. On the other hand, the combination of budget and government spending was changed in favor of plans and development costs, which launched major construction projects in the eight years of his presidency.
The relations between Saudi Arabia and Iran gradually started to improve after the end of the Iran-Iraq war in 1988. In 1989, Iranian President Hashemi Rafsanjani stated that Iran and Saudi Arabia were holding indirect talks to improve their relations.
After domestic, regional and international developments in 1999, Tehran and Riyadh went from divergence to the detente, coexistence and cooperation during the presidency of Hashemi Rafsanjani.
During Iraq-imposed war against Iran, Saudi authorities pledged $25 billion of aid to the Iraqi government of Saddam Hussein, recognizing their worries that revolutionary Iran was a far greater threat to its survival and the stability of the region. Saudi officials also encouraged other Arab states, including Bahrain, Kuwait and Qatar to follow the same policy towards Iran.
The already strained relationship between the two countries further deteriorated when Saudi security forces clashed with Hajj pilgrims, among them Iranian demonstrators, on 31 July 1987 which led to the death of 400 pilgrims out of which two thirds had Iranian nationality. Following the incident, Saudi administration instituted a ban on all Hajj rituals and in 1988 cut its diplomatic relations with Iran.
Iran's support for Kuwait during Iraq-Kuwait war in 1990, improved its ties with Saudi Arabia. During the war, relations between Iran and Saudi Arabia were defrosted considerably and the official ties were restored in 1991, during which the Saudi authorities resumed issuing Hajj visas to Iranian nationals.
Iran's logical position in Iraq-Kuwait conflict was welcomed by Europeans. Some European foreign ministers paid visit to Iran to express their appreciation for Iran's efforts for relaxation of tensions in the region.
Due to the new conditions in the region, the Europeans sought expansion of relations with Iran, as an important country in the region.
In December 1992, European Union leaders in the Edinburgh statement declared interest in dialogue with Iran and called for negotiations between the two sides, which was welcomed by the Islamic Republic.
During his tenure as a president, Rafsanjani attempted to separate political issues from economic ones, resuming trade with the US regardless of the absence of diplomatic relationships between Iran and the United States. Hashemi Rafsanjani believed that Iran could not trust the United States to resume political relations between the two countries.
Although Rafsanjani was seen by Washington as a potential ice breaker, his views were far from solidly pro-Western and displayed conflicted positions.
In an interview with Al-monitir, Rafsanjani said the path before Iran and the US is not as straightforward as that of Iran and other Western countries. Because from even before the Revolution up until now, there has always been the image in Iran that America is behind every impediment and obstruction against Iran. However, it seems that the Americans want to somewhat distance themselves from the past, and this is something that must be proven in action.
"In my view, the bottom line has always been that America must somehow make amends for the past and vindicate itself in the minds of the people of Iran," he noted.
Ayatollah Hashemi believed US government must notice past mistakes and adopt a fair and respectful policy in order to compensate for its measures, adding Iran's ties with the US requires compensation for past and taking new steps towards relations with Iran based on mutual respect.
His role in developing Iran's nuclear power is also highly regarded since he 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.
After leaving office as a president, the cleric managed to remain within Iran’s ruling theocracy through different roles.
In 2005, he tried to return to presidency, however his attempts faild after the victory of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The incident did not distanced him from presidential arena. During Ahmadinejad's 2009 re-election campaign, Rafsanjani became a vocal critic of his policies.
He criticized the economic policies of the government of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, saying his policies would "jeopardize the Islamic Republic."
Rafsanjani’s ideas were brought back to life when Hassan Rouhani was elected president in 2013 and began a policy of engagement with the US and other world powers.
Rafsanjani expressed his support for President Rouhani who attempted for resolution of Iran's nuclear program that lifted most sanctions on Iran.
As a political shield that defended the interests of the country on the international stage and contributed to its stability in the region, Ayatollah Rafsanjani was also a supporter of Iran's nuclear program.
Iran's nuclear program, unsolved for a long time leading to imposing western sanctions against the country, was settled through the helpful recommendations of Rafsanjani by a team headed by President Hassan Rouhani.
They made every effort at the time of negotiations for the Iranian nuclear program, which helped resolving it in a peaceful manner. The result of these efforts was the signing of the nuclear agreement.
In 2007, Rafsanjani reiterated that the use of weapons of mass destruction was not part of the Islamic Republic culture.
He was one of the few key figures who insisted on the resolution of Iran's nuclear program through peaceful talks with the world, through which he sought to prove Iran would not use its nuclear achievements in the military industries.
Signing the nuclear deal, known as JCPOA, paved the way for Iran's return to the global arena, inducing investment in oil and gas sectors and developing talks for development of energy projects that would hopefully solve economic problems in the country. Iran seized the opportunities created in the post-sanctions era and developed its ties with the world countries.
Rafsanjani always praised the Leader's support for nuclear talks, saying "Leader of the Islamic Revolution was the one who initiated activities for resolution of nuclear issue to ward off potential dangers against the people and Revolution even before the new government of President Hassan Rouhani assumed power."
After all efforts in the path of development and improving Iran's international image, Ayatollah Rafsanjani passed away in peace on Sunday, leaving his legacy to the present and next generation.
May his soul rest in peace, Amen.