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. In an interview published in October, Rafsanjani acknowledged the 1980-1988 war with Iraq, which killed some 1 million people, led Iran to consider seeking nuclear weapons.