The designated successor of Iran’s spiritual leader, the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, abruptly stepped down today in what appears to be a continuing crisis among the Iranian leadership, Iran’s official news agency reported.
The move came amid signs of a major shake-up in the Foreign Ministry, with Iran’s ambassador to the United Nations and an assistant foreign minister resigning.
“Imam Khomeini (today) accepted Ayatollah Hussein-Ali Montazeri’s resignation from the position of future leader of the Islamic republic,” the Islamic Republic News Agency reported in an urgent dispatch from Tehran.
Khomeini on Sunday discussed the future leadership of the Islamic republic with five top clerics as the power struggle in the country intensified, reports from Iran said.
Seen as Best Man
Western diplomats were surprised by Montazeri’s resignation but said the path is now open for someone of the caliber of Hashemi Rafsanjani, the ambitious Speaker of Parliament, to take over Montazeri’s position.
“Rafsanjani’s religious rank is lower than an ayatollah’s but many mullahs among the ruling clergy see him as the best man to take over when Khomeini dies,” one diplomat said.
The move closely followed the resignations today of Mohammed Mahallati, Iran’s ambassador to the United Nations, and Javad Larijani, an assistant foreign minister for European and American affairs, on Sunday.
Montazeri was chosen to succeed Khomeini by the 80-strong elected Council of Experts five years ago. Sources in Iran said the vote was not unanimous because several powerful clerics, including Rafsanjani, opposed the choice.
In a letter to Montazeri, Khomeini admitted that he had never supported his candidacy, IRNA news agency said.
Young Radicals in Parliament
“I, as well as you, was opposed to your selection and we both thought the same way about this issue,” Khomeini was quoted as saying. “But the experts had come to this conclusion and I did not want to interfere in their legal grounds.”
Opposition to Montazeri continued during the last three years but he appeared in recent months to have gained the upper hand when young radicals seized a majority of seats in Parliament.
The Washington Post quoted U.S. officials as saying Larijani, who had taken the lead in seeking better relations between Iran and Western nations, quit in an apparent dispute with radicals in the government over Salman Rushdie and his book, “The Satanic Verses.”