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Influential Ayatollah Says No One Designated To Succeed Khamenei

Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati (C) 91, and Judiciary chief Sadeq Larijani (R) visit Iranian supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei after his prostate operation at a hospital in Tehran, 08Sep2014. File photo

An influential ayatollah in Iran says no one has been singled out to succeed Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in the position of supreme leader.

Ayatollah Ahmad Khatami, spokesman of the Assembly of Experts (AE) and Tehran's interim Friday Prayer leader, said on January 26 that the media had misconstrued his previous comments about a confidential committee being formed to pick the future leader.

According to Khatami’s interview with the state-run Iran Students News Agency (ISNA) two years ago a confidential committee had been formed to select the future supreme leader in Iran.

"The committee is currently vetting records of qualified persons to occupy the position in the future," he was cited as saying at the time.

Ahmad Khatami - Speaker of Iran's Guardian Council
Ahmad Khatami - Speaker of Iran's Guardian Council

Khatami explained that only the current supreme leader Khamenei had access to the reports filed by the committee and that he would be given the names of qualified candidates upon request.

However, in his latest interview with ISNA, Khatami said, "Thank god that our supreme leader is in the most buoyant condition, going for walks and working out. Naturally, though, one should think about the ruling system's future, as well."

As a member of the AE's , Khatami also said that no one is being considered to replace Khamenei.

It is not clear why the conservative ayatollah raises the issue of succession now after he left his previous comments stand for two years.

One possible reason why Khatami took back his statement about a select committee being appointed to choose the next leader could be that the idea is against raison d'être of the Assembly of Experts that ha the constitutional task of choosing the successor to the Supreme Leader. Designating a small committee of a handful of AE members to accomplish the task would have undermined the main reason for the existence of the Assembly and the rest of its members.

However, he did admit that the AE Select Research Committee should have its own tactics and "measures" for when someone suitable is found, saying the AE has compiled “fair guidelines.”

"There were miscellaneous documents on the case that we decided two years ago to compile and write guidelines based on them," Khatami said. "Now the guidelines are prepared and ready to use."

Khatami said that Khamenei had asked the AE to compile the requirements needed for the position of leader of the establishment. However, Article 5 of the Iranian Constitution stipulates the requirements endorsed by Khamenei, including such qualities as courage, resourcefulness, and “administrative ability.”

The AE is the deliberative body empowered to appoint and dismiss the supreme leader. However, all directly elected members of the AE must be first approved by the supreme leader before gaining their seats.

The assembly consists of 88 members who are elected from lists of vetted candidates by direct public vote for eight-year terms. The last AE election was held in 2016. The current chairman of the Fifth Assembly is 91-year-old cleric Ahmad Jannati.

The question of finding a replacement for Khamenei has been widely discussed in recent years after he underwent surgery reportedly for prostate cancer in 2014.

Khamenei, 79, was born in Mashhad, northeast Iran, and after two terms as president (1981-1989) replaced Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini as supreme leader in 1989.