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Who Was Akbari, the Executed ex-Defense Deputy Minister

May 2, 2023
Ehsan Mehrabi
6 min read
Akbari, who served as deputy to the then-Minister of Defense Ali Shamkhani, was arrested in 2018 and convicted of espionage
Akbari, who served as deputy to the then-Minister of Defense Ali Shamkhani, was arrested in 2018 and convicted of espionage

The New York Times confirmed in a report on May 1 that Alireza Akbari, a former Iranian deputy minister of defense who was executed in January, was a UK spy who divulged nuclear secrets.

Akbari, who served as deputy to the then-Minister of Defense Ali Shamkhani, was arrested in 2018 and convicted of espionage.  

In the 2000s, Akbari provided commentary on various foreign policy issues. In his media interviews, he was described as the "director of the Strategic Research Institute" or an "analyst on international issues."

Despite his proximity to Shamkhani and his support for Ali Larijani during his tenure as Secretary of the Supreme National Security Council and leading nuclear negotiator, Akbari's proposals to solve Iran's nuclear crisis were almost never taken seriously.

During the period of Shamkhani's tenure as minister of defense in Mohammad Khatami’s government, Akbari served as deputy minister of international affairs.

He mentioned the dismantling of devices monitoring possible nuclear tests in Iran as one of his actions, and he later gave interviews on this topic.

This action followed Tehran’s policy of transparency regarding nuclear matters since the presidency of Ali Khamenei (1981-1989), as Zarif bitterly mentioned in his memoirs.

The Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) was approved under pressure from countries of the Non-Aligned Movement to prevent countries with nuclear capabilities from conducting nuclear tests, in contrast to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), which required countries without nuclear capabilities not to pursue nuclear weapons.

Akbari continued to criticize Zarif's statements later on and referred to his remarks at the Munich security conference as "mental and abstract." He wrote that Zarif had a "very simplistic" understanding of the audience's perception of internal security realities.

Critics to the nuclear negotiation team

Due to his close association with Shamkhani, Akbari was widely regarded as a supporter of the Second Khordad reformist movement. However, his statements on foreign policy conflicted with the government's policies.

As deputy minister of defense, Akbari praised the potential of the government's foreign policy in 2002. He highlighted the efforts to normalize relations in Persian Gulf countries and the whole region, restore Iran's international prestige and address the US-Iran conflict in a way that favored his country’s national interests.

Later, Akbari criticized the Khatami government's foreign policy, stating that it was too accommodating to other countries' interests.

He also criticized the nuclear negotiation team led by Hassan Rohani for “not prioritizing Iran's national interests in negotiations and for being overly cautious about the Security Council's involvement.”

Akbari has recommended that Iran withdraw from the NPT and has been critical of Iran's accession to the Additional Protocol of the Geneva Convention since 2002. He believed that the Additional Protocol should be “rejected” because it is “discriminatory” and “undermines Iran's sovereignty and prestige.”

Israeli Military Attack

In 2003, before Israel began sabotaging Iran's nuclear facilities, Akbari dismissed Israel's potential military operation as a bluff or a psychological tactic, but acknowledged that Iran’s foe had the capability to carry out attacks.

"Israel possesses air and missile capabilities that can target sensitive sites from a significant distance, up to 1,500 miles away,” he said at the time.

After Mahmoud Ahmadinejad became president, Akbari continued to voice support for Iran's nuclear enrichment program, emphasizing that Europe would be forced to compromise.

In 2004, he stressed that Iran must set up the Isfahan nuclear facility "without a doubt and as soon as possible," since it was unrelated to the enrichment issue and posed no problem as long as the enrichment remained below a certain threshold.

Security Council Resolutions

Akbari's views on the UN Security Council resolution were similar to those of Ahmadinejad, albeit expressed differently.

Ahmadinejad often referred to these resolutions as “mere pieces of paper,” while Akbari described them as signs of "an unconventional love."

In a statement in September 2005, Akbari said that "Iran doesn't mind breaking the taboo of the Security Council in the public opinion for once, and the West and Europe are mainly concerned about Iran's direction in this regard due to the nuclear issue. Iran's efforts to break this taboo and succeed in this process will not only benefit Iran, but it is also important for all developing countries."

In 2006, Akbari proposed to file a complaint with the Hague-based International Court of Justice in the event the UN Security Council issues a resolution on Iran's nuclear program.

He also criticized experts who viewed this action as futile as people who “lack sufficient knowledge of the political environment or international law.”

Regarding UN Security Council Resolution 1747, he stated that "This balance can only be established when Iran reaches a strong level of technical progress as soon as possible. If Iran reaches the stage of industrial production in industrial fuel, the 5+1 will negotiate with Iran on an equal footing. Until then, it is crucial to manage the situation and the crisis until reaching the point of industrial production."

In 2006, prior to the issuance of UN Resolution 1737, Akbari deemed sanctions useless in the short term, and believed that they would become beneficial in the medium and long term.

He said that after the change in the composition of Iran's Supreme National Security Council, negotiations with the P5+1 had lost momentum.

He suggested that unless the 5+1 presented a new idea that addressed not only the nuclear issue but also other matters within the framework of cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), there would be no progress toward a comprehensive solution.

Supporting Ahmadinejad's Positions

Akbari supported Ahmadinejad's decision to send a letter to US President George Bush, saying the Iranian president should remind his US counterpart “of some points.”

During an interview with Fars news agency in 2007, Akbari called for "aggressive approaches" in foreign policy.

In 2019, a few months before the presidential elections, Akbari stated that there might be people in the United States who think that “issuing another resolution could decrease the nation's trust in one faction and increase it in another.”

Opposition to the JCPOA

In many instances, Akbari held positions that differed from those of officials in the Rouhani government. He opposed the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), while simultaneously supporting JCPOA Plus.

Regarding the JCPOA, he said, "We transformed a disarmament-level negotiation into an economic negotiation.”

Akbari also likened the JCPOA to Resolution 598, which he believed gave Iran breathing space.

Furthermore, he spoke out against bills related to the Paris-based Financial Action Task Force (FATF), an international standard-setting body on illicit finance.

He claimed that the implementation of these regulations were “only restrictive” and did not “increase the possibility to transfer foreign currencies to the country or open a new banking route for the entry of foreign currencies obtained from any type of export."

Regarding the appointment of Hussein Salami as the Commander-in-Chief of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), Akbari wrote, " Salami's spirit is extremely revolutionary, and his mental and intellectual structure is based on the 'permanent battle of right and wrong'. A strong offensive mentality in confronting right and wrong has been his most important intellectual characteristic.”

Positions about Saudi Arabia

Akbari claimed that the signing of security agreements with Arab countries was one of his achievements.

However, in 2016, he called for a sharp confrontation with Saudi Arabia to make them "feel the bitter taste of failure" in politics, diplomacy and any other field.


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