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Iran’s ex-president Rafsanjani dies

AP file photo

Former President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani casts his ballot for the parliamentary elections in front of a portrait of late Iranian leader Ayatollah Khomeini at a polling station in Tehran on March 2, 2012.

The Associated Press TEHRAN (AP) — Iran’s former President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani died Sunday after a decades-long career in the ruling elite, where his moderate views were not always welcome but his cunning guided him through revolution, war and the country’s turbulent politics.

The political survivor’s life spanned the trials of Iran’s modern history, from serving as a close aide to Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini during the 1979 Islamic Revolution to acting as a go-between in the Iran-Contra deal. He helped found Iran’s contested nuclear program, but later backed the accord with world powers to limit it in exchange for sanctions relief.

Rafsanjani, who showed ruthlessness while in power but later pushed for reforms, died Sunday after suffering a heart attack, state media reported. He was 82.

Iranian media said he was hospitalized north of Tehran earlier Sunday, where doctors performed CPR in vain for nearly an hour and a half before declaring him dead.

A female state newscaster’s voice quivered as she read the news. Rafsanjani, “after a life full of restless efforts in the path of Islam and revolution, had departed for lofty heaven,” she said.

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei called Rafsanjani an “old friend and comrade” and said his loss is “difficult and life-decreasing.” The government announced three days of mourning, and a funeral was expected to be held on Tuesday.

Rafsanjani served as president from 1989 to 1997, during a period of significant changes in Iran. At the time, the country was struggling to rebuild its economy after a devastating 1980s war with Iraq, while also cautiously allowing some wider freedoms, as seen in Iran’s highly regarded film and media industry.

He also oversaw key developments in Iran’s nuclear program by negotiating deals with Russia to build an energy-producing reactor in Bushehr, which finally went into service in 2011 after long delays. Behind the scenes, he directed the secret purchase of technology and equipment from Pakistan and elsewhere.

The cleric managed to remain within Iran’s ruling theocracy after leaving office, but an attempt to return to the presidency in 2005 was dashed by the electoral victory of the more hard-line Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Rafsanjani was later branded a dissenter by many conservatives for his harsh criticism of the crackdown that followed Ahmadinejad’s re-election in 2009.

But after years of waning influence, Rafsanjani was handed an unexpected political resurgence with the 2013 victory of a fellow moderate, Hassan Rouhani, giving him an insider role in efforts that would culminate in the 2015 nuclear agreement.

Some analysts believe Rafsanjani was kept within the ruling fold as a potential mediator with America and its allies in the standoff over Iran’s nuclear program. His past stature as a trusted Khomeini ally also offered him political protection. Rafsanjani was a top commander in the war with Iraq and played a key role in convincing Khomeini to accept a cease-fire after years of crippling stalemate.

His image, however, also had darker undertones. He was named by prosecutors in Argentina among Iranian officials suspected of links to a 1994 bombing of a Jewish center in Buenos Aires that killed 85 people. Some Iranian reformers accused him of involvement in the slaying of liberals and dissidents during his presidency — charges that he denied and that were never pursued by Iranian authorities.

Rafsanjani — a portly man with only sparse and wispy chin hairs in contrast to the full beards worn by most Islamic clerics in Iran — first met Khomeini in the Shiite seminaries of Qom in the 1950s and later became a key figure in the Islamic uprising that toppled the U.S.-backed Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi in 1979.

He was elected as head of Iran’s parliament in 1980 and served until 1989, when he was elected for the first of two four-year terms as president.

Here, Rafsanjani began to build his multilayered — and sometimes contradictory — political nature: A supporter of free enterprise, a relative pragmatist toward foreign affairs and an unforgiving leader who showed no mercy to any challenges to his authority.

Rafsanjani took a dim view of state control of the economy, even in the turbulent years after the Islamic Revolution, and he encouraged private businesses, development of Tehran’s stock market and ways to boost Iranian exports.

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