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World News

Iran president hits back over nuclear criticism

TEHRAN (Reuters) - President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad hit back at a senior adviser to Iran’s top authority who had criticised his “provocative” speeches about the country’s nuclear work, which the West says is a cover to build bombs.

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad waits for an official meeting in Tehran July 13, 2008. REUTERS/Raheb Homavand

Ali Akbar Velayati, foreign policy adviser to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, expressed unusual public criticism by telling an Iranian daily this month the government should be more careful when speaking about the nuclear issue.

Velayati, a former foreign minister, did not mention the president by name but he clearly meant Ahmadinejad.

“Velayati is a respected man. Like everyone else in Iran, he is free to have personal views ... But he is not involved in nuclear decision making,” Ahmadinejad said in comments carried by Mardomsalari newspaper.

Ahmadinejad’s riposte reflects what some analysts see as a dispute over tactics on how to handle the nuclear issue, with hardliners backing Ahmadinejad’s uncompromising approach towards the West and others saying he is further isolating Iran.

But such debate rarely comes out in the open between senior politicians. Officials, speaking openly and privately, insist there is no difference in the broader strategy on continuing Iran’s nuclear plans without any halt.

Moderate politicians and even some of Ahmadinejad’s conservative opponents say his speeches on the nuclear issue have exacerbated Iran’s isolation.

But Khamenei, who has the last word on nuclear policy, has praised Ahmadinejad for his handling atomic matters.

Velayati has said it is in Iran’s interest to continue talks over a package of economic and other incentives proposed by world powers to coax Iran to suspend nuclear work the West fears is aimed making bombs, a charge Tehran denies. But he did not back suspending nuclear activity.

NO RIFT

Ahmadinejad on Monday said Tehran would not halt its uranium enrichment work, adding that Iran was ready to continue talks over the proposed incentives package.

“The West has understood that the only way out of this deadlock is to accept our right (to uranium enrichment),” he told state television.

Ahmadinejad said there was no rift between him and the leader over Iran’s nuclear strategy.

“Our nuclear path is clear. The government is responsible for the nuclear issue. We manage the issue based on the leader’s views,” Ahmadinejad said.

Some foreign media had reported that Khamenei was unhappy with some of Ahmadinejad’s policies, including the nuclear issue. But the president last week denied any differences with Khamenei, saying: “We laugh together about such reports.”

Western diplomats say the world powers -- the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China -- have conditionally offered to hold preliminary talks ahead of formal discussions.

But first, the big powers want Tehran to freeze any expansion of its nuclear programme in return for the U.N. Security Council halting further sanctions measures.

EU Foreign Policy Chief Javier Solana will meet Iran’s top nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili in Geneva on July 19.

“These talks will show if they (world powers) are bluffing,” Ahmadinejad said.

Writing by Parisa Hafezi; Editing by Sami Aboudi

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