Ahmad Khatami, spokesman of Iran’s Assembly of Experts (AoE), says they have discussed the criteria for choosing the next Supreme Leader during the past week.

Khatami told reporters on Wednesday, September 7, that recent public discussions about Supreme Leader’s succession were simply rumors. He did not elaborate, but it was obvious that he was speaking about widespread discussions on social media about Ali Khamenei's son, Mojtaba, being groomed to be the country's next leader.

According to Etemad Online, Khatami had said in December 2015 that a secret committee has been formed to determine probable successors for the Islamic Republic's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei.

At the time he said that the identity of the three committee members would remain concealed from the other members, while they would work on a list of eligible candidates for succession, adding that the committee was formed based on advice by Khamenei.

Khatami was criticized at the time for the comment as some of the members of the AoE said there was no point in having an assembly with over 60 members if only three people are going to make the decision about succession.

Ayatollah Ahmad Khatami, spokesman of the Assembly of Experts

Selecting a successor for the Supreme Leader and disqualifying an existing supreme leader are the main responsibilities of the Assembly of Experts. However, on the only occasion to determine a leader in 1989, it was the assembly's deputy chief Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani who imposed his choice of the next leader on others and named Khamenei as a temporary leader "until a final decision on succession is made."

After harsh criticism by several Assembly members, Khatami said as a second thought that "The committee has only discussed the characteristics of the leader and the criteria to choose one." He even said that "the committee has been active for many years based on the Iranian Constitution," and that "its job is to determine who is potentially eligible to become the leader, rather than determining a leader."

He added that "Khamenei told the committee several times that the AoE should have quite a few next leaders up their sleeves."

Ali Khamenei meeting with the Assembly of Experts in the past. A meeting that did not take place this month

Ayatollah Mohsen Araki who was a member of the assembly in 2009 told Fars news agency, there is a confidential list of potential supreme leaders. He said the committee holding the confidential list was known as "the research committee." Araki added that AoE members can suggest more names to be added to the list. However, when he was asked how many names are already on the list, he answered: "We do not know. It is one-hundred-percent confidential. Only the three members of the committee know the names." Parts of Araki's comments are still available on the official news agency (IRNA).

Another Assembly of Expert member in 2009, Ayatollah Hashem Hashemzadeh Harisi said that "the committee's only job is to determine the criteria for choosing the next leader. They are tasked with doing research not with determining the leader."

Harisi clarified further that "This is not an important committee, therefore, there should not be any public sensitivity about it. This committee is formed within the Assembly of Experts, but it is not important. It does not have any authority, and it is not legal. Therefore, it does not have much of an impact and it is not entitled to determine who is going to be the Islamic Republic's next leader."

The most interesting part of Araki's comments was that "The committee can name eligible next leaders from Iran or elsewhere including An-Najaf in Iraq" where Iraq's biggest seminary is located. However, he added that although there is no condition about the next leader's nationality in the regulations, but when it comes to choosing the next leader, being an Iranian will be one of the criteria."

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