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Iran's Bani-Sadr locked in power struggle

Iranian President Abolhassan Bani-Sadr, who earlier proved his liberal bent by attempting to have the United States hostages in Iran released, is engaged in what appears to be a losing battle for power.

His current rival is Ayatollah Muhammad Beheshti, chief of the fundamentalist Islamic Republican Party.

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Often referred to as an Iranian Rasputin, Ayatollah Beheshti is distrusted by many Iranians and saw his presidential hopes dashed last January when Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini "advised" Iran's clergymen not to run for president.

After Mr. Bani-Sadr emerged as President, Ayatollah Beheshti made no secret of his intention to reduce him to a figurehead.

The struggle remained submerged until recently when Mr. Bani-Sadr tried to appoint a new prime minister for Iran only a week before the Majlis (parliament) was due to be inaugurated on May 28. He lost that move when a number of prominent figures to whom he offered the job turned it down.

Among these were the former Navy chief, Rear Adm. Ahmad Madani, the plan and budget organization chief, Dr. Essatollah Sahabi, and a former deputy premier, Sadeq Tabatabai.

Admiral Madani, the "strong man" of Khuzestan Province last year when he put down with a steel fist a number of dissident Arab-speaking groups active there, demanded something President Bani-Sadr could not offer: a reduced role for the clergy in the administration.

Ayatollah Khomeini is reported to have opposed the idea of reducing the clergy's role.

Dr. Sahabi, a highly respected intellectual whose father, Yadollah, was appointed provisional speaker when the Majlis met on May 28, declined the job on the simple grounds that no prime minister could function under existing circumstances.

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Mr. Tabatabai, who first appeared eager for the job, withdrew his acceptance hours before Mr. Bani-Sadr was due to approach Ayatollah Khomeini to get his approval.

(Mr. Tabatabai, meanwhile, has advocated release of the American hostages on humanitarian grounds and because he feels it would help solve Iran's problems. In this he has been joined by Ayatollah Sadeq Khalkhali, another powerful figure.)

The way Mr. Bani-Sadr explained it later, no one was ready to take the job just before the Majlis was due to meet, because anyone who did so would have to resign perhaps only two or three weeks later and seek two separate votes of approval from the new parliament before resuming his work.

Within this short period, the prime minister, whoever he was, would not have been able to get any sort of useful work done at all.

Not that this was the main sticking point. Mr. Bani-Sadr's move to appoint a premier only weeks before the Majlis could get down to serious work was seen as an attempt to beat Ayatollah Beheshti to the punch.

Shortly after Mr. Bani-Sadr's failure to get his own man appointed premier, Ayatollah Beheshti's party issued a plainly worded statement saying it was the Iranian Republican Party's view that under the Constitution the prime minister should be the "most important" man in the administration.

This was another way of saying it was the party's view the president should be a figurehead.

The Beheshti move, ostensibly aimed at establishing a parliamentary democracy in Iran, is seen more in terms of a search for an individual who would bend to his and the party's will.

The man Ayatollah Beheshti has named as his choice for prime minister, Musa Kalantari, is an almost totally unknown civil engineer who was first appointed director-general of roads and transportation in Khuzestan and in east Azerbaijan Province after the revolution. Mr. Kalantari was then appointed roads and transportation minister in November.

This was done in the Revolutionary Council's Cabinet, which has run the country since the collapse of the Mehdi Bazargan government following the takeover of the US Embassy.

Since the Revolutionary Council then was very much under Ayatollah Behesti's control, Mr. Kalantari is clearly indebted to the ayatollah, and the kind of man he has been looking for.

Mr. Bani-Sadr's choice of premier may be Dr. Hassan Habibi, science and higher education minister since the time of Mr. Bazargan's Cabinet. The President is expected to present him to parliament sometime in mid-June, to seek a "vote of intent" (a Persian term devised in the 1906 Constitution and reinstituted by the present regime).

The vote of intent gives the prime minister the authority to set up a cabinet , returning to parliament for a vote of confidence for his government later.

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