The rise of the brothers — staunch defenders of Islamic rule who have the confidence of Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei — and their tensions with the more nationalist Ahmadinejad have underscored the competing strains of conservatism in Iran’s increasingly fractious politics.
Ali Larijani lost badly when he ran for president in the 2005 election that brought Ahmadinejad to office. But he has the strong support of Iran’s powerful clergy, which is seeking to maintain the power it has enjoyed since the inception of the theocracy. And his performance as a nuclear negotiator, from 2005 to 2007, won him points with hard-liners who lauded his refusal to bargain on what they believe are Iran’s fundamental rights to scientific progress.
What’s more, the reformists who ran in the 2009 presidential election have been sidelined, and authorities have yet to decide whether their allies will be allowed on the ballot.
Analysts say it is unclear how greater influence by the Larijanis would affect Iran’s relations with the West or potential talks with Washington about the country’s contentious nuclear program. Mohammad Javad Larijani, who studied mathematics at the University of California at Berkeley, travels regularly to the United States, where he has appeared on talk shows to rail in perfect English against American policies. Ali Larijani served as the lead negotiator on the Iranian nuclear program, earning a reputation among some Western officials as a pragmatist.
“They are known commodities to Western capitals and have made a reputation for themselves . . . as smart and tough negotiators,” said Mehrzad Boroujerdi, director of Middle East studies at Syracuse University.
The Larijani ties to the supreme leader, Iran’s ultimate decision-maker, mean Ali Larijani would probably be more empowered than Ahmadinejad to make a deal with Washington. But his worldliness does not mean he is more Western, analysts say — although he is less bombastic than Ahmadinejad, he and his brothers are also viewed as even stauncher ideologues.
Sons of an ayatollah who all received religious training as well as rigorous education in the sciences, the Larijanis are considered defenders of the original system of Islamic rule, and their public positions tend to be in line with Khamenei’s wishes. Ali Larijani is the top-ranking lawmaker from Iran’s religious center of Qom.