Rafsanjani Tries to Keep Extremists Out of His Cabinet

IF Iran's parliament approves the Cabinet chosen by President Hashemi Rafsanjani, the government portfolios will be balanced between hard-liners and pragmatists, and will exclude the most extreme members of both camps. The approval process, expected to last one or two weeks, began after Mr. Rafsanjani on Saturday submitted his list to Mehdi Karrubi, Rafsanjani's successor as speaker of the Majlis, or parliament. That 270-member body will debate and vote one at a time on the president's choices for the 22 Cabinet seats.

Absent from the list is Hojatoleslam Ali Akbar Mohtashemi, whom Western diplomats in Tehran accuse of being a ``fanatic radical supporting international terrorism.'' Mr. Mohtashemi helped found Hizbullah, an organization of radical Lebanese Shiites believed to be behind the taking of 15 or so Western hostages in Lebanon.

Also dismissed from the Cabinet is the ultraradical Hojatoleslam Mohammadi Rey-Shahri, who was head of the intelligence services. During his years in office, Mr. Rey-Shahri waged a brutal and merciless fight against opponents to the Islamic regime, whether inside or outside Iran.

Hard-line Prime Minister Mir Hossein Musavi, whose post was eliminated by the newly approved constitutional reforms, is said to have refused all jobs offered to him by either Rafsanjani or spiritual ``guide'' Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. A source close to Mr. Musavi said he will retire from active political life and take a job of professor at Tehran University.

At the other end of the spectrum, candidates that Rafsanjani passed over include Mohammad Javad Larijani. He is described by foreign diplomats in Tehran as the brightest and most pragmatic politician of post-revolutionary Iran.

Until March this year Mr. Larijani was deputy minister of foreign affairs. He was forced to resign, apparently because he had told a French diplomat that Ayatollah Khomeini's call to murder British writer Salman Rushdie didn't bind the Iranian government.

On Aug. 8, Mr. Larijani granted an interview in which he said ``the freeing of all hostages in Lebanon would be a great victory for Islam.''

``The fact that Rafsanjani got rid of extremists on both sides will help him work out compromises,'' an Iranian journalist in Tehran says. ``Also, many of the Cabinet members are technocrats and not politicians, which means they'll spend more time working than fighting one another as it often happened in the previous Cabinets.''

A letter signed by a slight majority of the Majlis criticized Rafsanjani Saturday for excluding Mohtashemi, leading to speculation among Western observers in Tehran that a major conflict between the new president and the legislative body was in the offing.

But a source close to Rafsanjani contacted at the weekend insisted the president is confident all his Cabinet members will secure a confidence vote.

Mohtashemi will be replaced at the ministry of interior by Ayatollah Abdollah Nouri.

Ayatollah Nouri has in the past been Ayatollah Khomeini's personal representative in various governmental organizations.

``Like Mr. Mohtashemi, Mr. Nouri is a radical opposed to any rapprochement with the US. But Mr. Nouri has a reputation of openness and flexibility Mr. Mohtashami had not,'' an Iranian journalist contacted in Tehran explained.

Ali Akbar Velayati, whose political ideas are close to those of Mr. Larijani but who has the reputation of having a better relationship with more radical colleagues, will retain the job of minister of foreign affairs.

Another important change in the Cabinet is the merging of the departments of defense and Revolutionary Guards into a single large ministry of the armed forces.

Since his appointment by Ayatollah Khomeini as acting commander in chief in the spring of 1988, Rafsanjani has been striving to build bridges between the two often-competing branches of Iran's armed forces.

The minister of the armed forces will be Ahmad Turqan. Mr. Turqan, a radical, has for years been a senior civil servant at the ministry of defense where he was in charge of armaments and ammunition supplies.

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