Iran's Expediency Council on Saturday has ratified an important anti-money laundering law demanded by the international community to allow Iran to have normal banking ties with the world.
The law is the second of the four requirements by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) for putting an end to Iran's isolation in the international banking and financial system.
It had already been approved by parliament but the Guardian Council, which must review all legislation, refused to put its seal of approval and the law was referred to the Expediancy Council, which constitutionally is the arbiter between parliament and the Guardian Council.
However, a well-known journalist in Iran, Davood Heshmati has tweeted that what the Council has approved is not the text it received from parliament. Heshmati claims that the council has added articles, which by law it cannot do. Heshamti’s claim cannot be verified at this point, until the approved text becomes public.
The Expediency Council’s role is simply to arbitrate disputes between parliament and the Guardian Council; not to edit laws passed by parliament.
This was the first meeting of the Expediency Council under its new Chairman, Ayatollah Amoli Larijani, after its previous chairman died of cancer recently.
There is another bill, about combating organized crime, to be discussed at the next assembly meeting. But the situation of the fourth bill, about joining the international convention against funding terrorism, is still not clear. The parliament and the conservative dominated watchdog Guardian Council disagree on the bill which has not been sent to the Expediency Council as the final arbiter between the two bodies.
Guardian Council's spokesperson Abbasali Kadkhodai told reporters on Saturday that the parliament still needs to tackle 20 flaws in the bill before sending it back to the Guardian Council for yet another assessment to ensure its compatibility with the rules of Shariah and the Iranian Constitution.
This comes while Iran has only a few weeks to meet the FATF deadline in February for taking Iran out of the task force's black list.
Regardless of the back and forth between the parliament (Majles), the Guardian Council and the Expediency Council, it appears that the Islamic Republic has no option other than passing the laws in spite of hardliners' opposition.
Pointing out that the ratification of the four bills is essential for Europe to stand by its promise to help Iran out of the financial deadlock caused by U.S. sanctions, the director of the Strategic Foreign Relations Council set up by Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei told the press on Thursday that "Europeans will have no excuse to delay the process if and when Tehran approves the four anti-corruption bills required by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF)."
Iran's hardliners, mainly those who oppose President Hassan Rouhani, fiercely obstructed the passing of the four bills, saying that meeting the FATF requirements will prevent Iran from extending financial assistance to groups such as the Palestinian Islamic Jihad and the Lebanese Hezbollah, Iran's allies in the region who are considered as terrorist by the West.
In the meantime, political deadlock in Tehran continued as President Hassan Rouhani did not show up for the Expediency council's first session chaired by Amoli Larijani. Rouhani had also refused to take part at the council's sessions during the one year Ayatollah Mahmoud Hashemi Shahroudi was its chairman, after the death of Hashemi Rafsanjani, the maverick politician and Rouhani’s mentor.
At the time, Rouhani's adviser Hessamoddin Ashna told reporters, "It is a right for the president of the state to chair the Expediency Council. If he takes part in the session in his capacity as President, he cannot accept another person's chairmanship."
Ashna was referring to the fact that Iran's two former Presidents, Ali Khamenei and Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani also held the chairmanship of the Expediency Council. The latter remained in that position beyond his presidency until his death in January 2017 and Shahroudi was the first Expediency Council chairman who was not a president.
Rouhani and Amoli Larijani have held differing views on many political and religious issues in the past.
Another famous absentee in the latest Expediency Council meeting was former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who never got on with Amoli Larijani and last year wrote a letter to Khamenei demanding Amoli Larijani's removal from his post as Judiciary chief.
The sulking must have been widespread in Iranian political circles as Amoli Larijani and his brother, Majles Speaker Ali Larijani, also refused to show up at the council's sessions under Shahroudi.
However, as U.S. sanctions hit Iran’s economy hard and the country is entangled in a web of crises, the Islamic Republic's problem goes beyond glitches in interpersonal relations between its leaders. The regime has left behind a year of protes by disillusioned citizens disgruntled by financial hardships and social injustice, and emboldened by the empowerment of opposition forces.
The unbending Supreme Leader now can see nothing but the looming shadow of yet further disturbances flared up by U.S. pressures. He has publicly warned that America is preparing "sedition 2019."