Internal critics rebuke policies of Iranian ‘hard-line’ president

TEHRAN, Iran – Iran’s former chief nuclear negotiator delivered an unusually sharp rebuke to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s policies yesterday, saying they are turning more nations against Iran and failing to fix the struggling economy.

The comments by Hasan Rowhani were the harshest yet against the hard-line president by a prominent figure in the Iranian leadership, and came after critics had grown muted in recent month as the government stirred up fears of conflict with the U.S. and warned against dissent.

The criticism echoed complaints early this year from conservative supporters of Ahmadinejad that his inflammatory rhetoric was needlessly goading the West in the confrontation over Iran’s nuclear program and that he hadn’t fulfilled promises to improve the economy.

Rowhani was replaced as nuclear negotiator when Ahmadinejad came to office in 2005, but he remains a member of the Supreme National Security Council and sits on two powerful cleric-run bodies, the Experts Assembly and the Expediency Council.

Speaking to the pro-reform Moderation and Development Party, he did not directly mention Ahmadinejad, but was clearly referring to his policies. His comments were reported by the semiofficial ISNA and Mehr news agencies and confirmed to The Associated Press by people who heard the speech.

“On the international stage, we are under threat more than any other time,” Rowhani said. “The country’s diplomacy will be successful if it doesn’t allow the enemy to win the backing of other countries against us. Unfortunately, the number of our enemies are increasing. Up to yesterday, Britain stood by the U.S., but now France has joined the United States more closely.”

Rowhani had spoken little in public since he was removed as nuclear negotiator, a stint during which he helped seal a deal with the European Union under which Iran suspended uranium enrichment as a gesture to the West. After he was replaced, Iran resumed those activities and has pushed ahead with them despite U.N. sanctions and resolutions demanding a halt.

He indirectly criticized Ahmadinejad’s frequent statements dismissing the effect of U.N. sanctions on Iran, saying “the economic impact is felt in the life of the people.”

Turning to Iran’s economic struggles, Rowhani said that despite high prices for Iran’s oil, “we don’t see a healthy and dynamic economy.”

“If we had an accurate and comprehensive plan, most of the country’s problems could have been resolvable,” he said.

Rowhani said important policy decisions were being made by only a few people. “The views and opinions of others must be sought, too,” he said, adding, “We can’t reach adequate national unity with so much shortsightedness.”

On Friday, Ahmadinejad denounced critics of his nuclear policies and made what appeared to be a dig at Rowhani for discussing the nuclear standoff with German officials during a visit to Germany in September.

“There are some people inside the country … who want to intervene,” Ahmadinejad said. enemies welcome them since they are in a deadlock and want a pretext to get out of deadlock.”

Ahmadinejad’s government insists it will continue with its nuclear program, arguing its uranium enrichment is intended only to produce fuel for nuclear reactors that will generate electricity.