Iran cleric to Obama: Don't repeat Bush's warnings

TEHRAN Fri Jan 30, 2009 9:03am EST

Iranian former president Ali Akbar Rafsanjani speaks during Tehran's Friday prayers September 26, 2008. REUTERS/Morteza Nikoubazl

Iranian former president Ali Akbar Rafsanjani speaks during Tehran's Friday prayers September 26, 2008.

Credit: Reuters/Morteza Nikoubazl

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TEHRAN (Reuters) - An influential Iranian cleric criticized the new U.S. administration on Friday for signaling that it reserved all its options, ranging from diplomacy to military action, to pressure Iran over its nuclear program.

But Ali Akbar Rafsanjani, a former president, also held out the prospect that if U.S. President Barack Obama changed Washington's approach toward Iran's disputed nuclear plans the Islamic Republic would cooperate with it in the Middle East.

Obama's administration has said he would break from his predecessor by pursuing direct talks with Tehran but has also warned Iran to expect more pressure if it did not meet the U.N. Security Council demand to halt nuclear uranium enrichment.

Iran has repeatedly refused to halt atomic activities which the West suspects are aimed at making bombs but which Tehran says are to generate electricity so that it can export more oil.

"We have this expectation that you (the United States) take a fair and wise step so that Iran's (nuclear) rights would not be violated," Rafsanjani told worshippers at Friday prayers.

If that happens, the United States "would be able to help the people of this region with the companionship and cooperation of Iran so that we solve the region's problems," he said in the sermon at Tehran University broadcast live on state radio.

"If you don't, history will make the same judgment about you as it did about Mr Bush," said Rafsanjani, a pragmatic conservative who lost the 2005 presidential election to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and who now heads a powerful arbitration body.

George W. Bush always insisted that all options, including military action, remained open in dealing with Iran, though he said he was seeking a diplomatic solution.

Iran says it is prepared to defend the country if attacked.

Obama's spokesman Robert Gibbs said on Thursday that the United States "must use all elements of our national power to protect our interests as it relates to Iran."

Rafsanjani said that repeating Bush's statements would not solve anything in relations between the two countries, which have not had diplomatic ties for three decades.

"When you say that all options, even military, are on the table, when you say that Iran should suspend its nuclear program if it wants to end its isolation ... when you make threats and give unclear and impractical promises, this can't be," Rafsanjani said.

"You should make a clear stance. We still have this expectation because of the expectations that you yourself created in your election campaign," he said.

(Reporting Zahra Hosseinian; Writing by Fredrik Dahl; Editing by Alison Williams)

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