Thursday, February 28, 2008

Ahmadinejad under fire for 'coarse slogans' after Israel attack

Siavosh Ghazi AFP - Wednesday, February 27 11:40 am

TEHRAN (AFP) - A top Iranian cleric on Wednesday made a rare criticism of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's verbal attacks on Israel, saying a foreign policy of "coarse slogans" was not in the national interest.

Hassan Rowhani, a former top nuclear negotiator who still holds several influential positions, said Iran needed to show more flexibility and desire for dialogue in its dealings with the international community. "Does foreign policy mean expressing coarse slogans and grandstanding?" Rowhani asked in a speech to a foreign policy conference in Tehran.

"This is not a foreign policy. We need to find an accommodating way to decrease the threats and assure the interests of the country."

His comments came a week after the latest verbal attack on Israel by Ahmadinejad, who described the Jewish state as a "dirty microbe" and "savage animal" in a speech to a public rally.

The president has already made calls for Israel to be wiped off the map and predicted it is doomed to disappear, provoking international uproar and sharpening tensions in Iran's nuclear standoff with the West.

Rowhani warned starkly: "If the international community thinks that a country wants to play troublemaker and eliminate others, it will not let the country do this and will confront it.

"We must act in such a way that the world understands that we are ready for more flexibility and more dialogue."

Rowhani headed the relatively moderate nuclear negotiating team that served under former president Mohammad Khatami before Ahmadinejad took power in 2005.

He still holds a string of important positions, including membership of the elite clerical body the Assembly of Experts, and is a representative of supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on Iran's supreme national security council.

Rowhani is considered a top lieutenant of Iran's pragmatic 1989-1997 president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, who was crushed by Ahmadinejad in the 2005 presidential election.

He has in recent weeks emerged as one of the most outspoken critics of Ahmadinejad's controversial handling of the economy and foreign policy and one of few to prepared to criticise the president so explicitly.

"Someone can respect another person because he has a knife in his hands. But this is very different from respecting someone due to his knowledge, ethics and ability," Rowhani added in the speech.

Earlier this month he had also criticised the Ahmadinejad government's emphasis on the swift return of the imam Mahdi, who Shiites believe has disappeared into "occultation" and will come back one day to save the world.

His comments are all the more startling coming the day after Khamenei personally congratulated Ahmadinejad for his role in ensuring Iran made no concessions in the nuclear standoff with the West.

"The personal role of the president and his resistance in the nuclear case is very clear," Iran's undisputed number one said as he hailed the "great success" of the nuclear drive, according to state radio.

Khamenei also issued a stark warning to Iranian politicians to stay unified ahead of parliamentary elections on March 14, saying that the West wanted to divide factions into "hardliners and moderates".

Rowhani is director of the strategic centre for foreign policy studies, a think-tank run by Iran's top political arbitration body the Expediency Council which is headed by Rafsanjani.

His deputy at the think-tank is Hossein Moussavian, another ex-nuclear official who was detained for several days last May on suspicion of espionage. He was released on bail but has been publicly denounced by Ahmadinejad as a "nuclear spy".

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