Mohammad Reza Heidari, a former high-ranking Iranian diplomat in Norway, announced in December that he was quitting the foreign ministry and not returning to Tehran. He now lives in Oslo, where he spoke with insideIRAN.org
Q: You were the first Iranian diplomat to defect after the June 12 election and created the “Green Embassy.” There are two more diplomats who recently resigned and joined the Green Embassy. Was this a coordinated move? Were you aware of this? Are there going to be more defections and resignations?
A: Yes, plenty more. I have information that there are many people in the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps and within the security apparatus of the regime who are resigning as we speak. Some of them have moved to Turkey seeking asylum and have turned themselves in at the UN compound there. Some of them are under house arrest in Iran. These are men who fought in the war alongside us but are now alienated by the behavior of the IRGC. No one can hear their voices, though.
Their families are under pressure. Iran has become a massive jail for all Iranians. People in Iran are unhappy and are paying for their protests.
I was in touch with these gentlemen for the past six months. This was a group effort. I didn’t just decide overnight to defect on my own. My friends and I had discussions about this. We talked about who would volunteer to do this first and when. There are always fears about government retribution. This is a very dangerous move. We discussed all this. We decided to make a move to express our dissatisfaction with the status quo. On the day of Ashura, I decided to defect first to protest the government’s brutality. There were many more resignations before me but the regime would not allow them to speak up and reach the world media. Mr. Abolfazl Eslami in the embassy in Japan and Mr. Ranjbar in the interest section in the United States had already resigned their posts and joined the movement. They did not receive media coverage and thus remained unknown. We all believe that fundamental changes are needed in Iran.
Q: Why has the government become more sensitive about these resignations recently?
A: Those who left many years ago left because they could no longer deal with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and with the system. They wanted to live their lives. But now, our resignations are different, and are expressions of protest to the government. We oppose the killing of our people. This is political now, and it is an important point. According to numbers that I have, five Iranian diplomats left the embassy in Sweden and sought asylum there. And the Islamic Republic didn’t care. They are worried now because we were the products of the regime. These diplomats were from IRGC or martyrs’ families. Now they are worried about losing them.
Q: Tabnak, a conservative site close to former IRGC commander Mohsen Rezai, accused you and other diplomats of leaving your posts at the end of your mission solely because you did not want to leave your good lives in the West and return to Iran. Is that true?
A: These are all fabrications. Tabnak is part of this imploding system. We diplomats had the best lives in Iran. Our children went to the best schools in the county. We had high incomes. Every three to four years we were sent abroad. If we were to resign for some sort of financial gain, we wouldn’t have made such a big deal, we would have just minded our own business and gone on with our lives. Many diplomats have resigned in the past thirty years. They remained silent and nothing happened. I witnessed this with my own eyes when the head of the Iranian consulate in West Berlin and all his staff resigned and no one heard about it. They all have German passports now and live there. There were diplomats who sought asylum in Sweden quietly and no one ever found out. If we were after financial gains and personal interests, we would have remained quiet and would have pursued calm and prosperous lives.
Q: Last week, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei told President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to avoid interfering in the duties of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs by appointing special envoys. Then, Manouchehr Mottaki, the minister of foreign affairs, criticized Ahmadinejad’s appointees. Is there a major rift between the president and his foreign minister?
A: Mottaki was in charge of Parliamentary Speaker Larijani’s campaign for president (against Ahmadinejad), yet he was appointed as Ahmadinejad’s foreign minister. The president was forced by the Supreme Leader to appoint Mottaki. The Supreme Leader also forced Ahmadinejad to pick the Leader’s preferred men for the Ministries of Intelligence and Interior, two of the most sensitive posts in Iran. Ahmadinejad had to accept this. They had problems from the very first year. Ahmadinejad and Mottaki had problems over appointing ambassadors.
Mr. Mojtaba Hashemi-Samareh, Ahmadinejad’s senior advisor, was the inspector general of the Foreign Ministry many years back. He interfered in everything. Mottaki was always upset. We did not have ambassadors to a large number of embassies and had to work with chargé d’affaires. Ahmadinejad and his supporters are very suspicious of Iranians abroad. They believe that the Foreign Ministry failed to do its job and allowed expats to create problems in Iran. Ahmadinejad really doesn’t care about Khamenei. He wants to do what he wants in the Foreign Ministry without the Supreme Leader’s supervision.
Q: It seems that Ahmadinejad backed down and pulled back his special envoys. Is this a victory for Khamenei or a sign of Ahmadinejad’s loyalty to the Supreme Leader?
A: Ahmadinejad has shown that he does not back down even when there is pressure from Khamenei. He refused to fire Esfandiar Rahim-Mashaie and instead appointed him to more positions. Mr. Mashaie has multiple jobs now! Ahmadinejad does not care about the Supreme Leader and cares about his ideology and his interests.
Q: Is Iran’s Foreign Minister Mottaki going to resign? What would happen if he does?
A: If Mottaki proves not to be a coward, which is unlikely, and resign, then things will be different. He is not a minister. He has limited or no power in his own ministry. His ambassadors refuse to report to him and instead report directly to the president. What kind of a minister is this? He will stay to keep his post. If he is replaced, Ahmadinejad will probably pick Mr. Hashemi-Samareh or Saeed Jalili. Both men served in the Foreign Ministry during the Rafsanjani years as inspector general and director of internal affairs, respectively. After Ahmadinejad became president, both men were promoted to much higher ranks. Hashemi-Samareh was fired during Rafsanjani in a humiliating way and he is now trying to take revenge.
Q: But these men cannot get through the parliament! What happens then?
A: It is possible that Ahmadinejad’s picks will fail to receive the parliament’s vote of confidence. Then, the president can appoint an interim director for the ministry, something he would love to do!