Critique of Iranian leader reveals political rift

Posted in Iran | 23-Nov-07 | Author: Nazila Fathi| Source: International Herald Tribune

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad

TEHRAN: An influential hard-line newspaper has made a rare direct attack on President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad over his recent harsh accusations against veteran politicians before parliamentary elections in March.

The daily, Jomhouri Eslami, criticized Ahmadinejad for calling a former nuclear negotiator, Hossein Mousavian, a nuclear spy and saying that influential politicians were using their power to have him cleared of those charges. Mousavian was a close aide to a former president, Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani.

"Lately, defaming political rivals has become common in the country and has replaced lawful behavior," the newspaper wrote in a front-page editorial on Wednesday. "We want to reject this kind of behavior as immoral, illegal, illogical and un-Islamic, and remind wise figures that such a trend is dangerous for the country," it added.

Ahmadinejad has proven a divisive leader, with both hard-line conservative and reformist opponents finding fault with his economic programs and his harsh anti-Western rhetoric. But the criticism is often indirect, to avoid political repercussions. Jomhouri Eslami, however, is so established — the current supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, was once the managing editor — that it is unlikely to be closed down or censored.

With parliamentary elections scheduled for March 2008 and presidential elections in spring 2009, Ahmadinejad and his rivals are stepping up their political positioning. His comments about Mousavian's case appear to be part of his efforts to discredit his political rivals as the West is increasing its pressure on Iran over its defiance to halt uranium enrichment activities.

Ahmadinejad has started a second round of trips to the provinces around the country since his election over two years ago. He often speaks about development for deprived areas and about the country's nuclear program, which appeals to nationalists. He has argued that former leaders have compromised over the program, and he has dismissed the idea that his confrontational policies could put the country in the face of a crisis. He has declared those who criticize his nuclear policy "traitors."

But his political opponents have become more vocal in their criticism of him and have warned that his nuclear agenda can have dangerous consequences. Two former presidents, Rafsanjani and Mohammad Khatami, have warned that the country faces serious threats from foreign governments worried that the nuclear program is meant to create weapons, not energy, as Ahmadinejad portrays it.

France and the United States say they have not dismissed military action against Iran if it does not halt its uranium enrichment program.

The former head of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, Mohsen Rezai, and Mayor Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf of Tehran, both influential hard-line figures, also expressed concerns over foreign threats this month.

And Hassan Rowhani, a former nuclear negotiator and a close aide to Rafsanjani, urged the government to distance itself from tension with the West. "We must not give excuse to the enemy and provoke it with unwise statements," he said, according to newspapers.

In addition, Rassoul Montajabnia, the deputy head of the reformist party Etemad Melli, warned that underestimating the threats was naïve. "We have to be realistic about the issues surrounding the nuclear file," he said, according to a news Web site, Aftab. "The government does not see the threats and thinks the case is closed," he added. "This is very naïve and means fooling people."

Despite dismissing the threats, the authorities have also warned against any attacks on Iran.