Reformists challenge Iranian president

TEHRAN (Reuters) - Iranian reformists challenged President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s hardline nuclear policy on Friday as the United States defended its imposition of tougher sanctions on Tehran for its disputed atomic work.

Former Iranian President Mohammad Khatami (C) talks to supporters as he leaves the opening ceremony of the 10th Congress of Islamic Iran Participation in Tehran October 26, 2007. REUTERS/Morteza Nikoubazl

Washington announced sanctions on Thursday against more than 20 Iranian companies, banks and individuals as well as the Defense Ministry, hoping to increase pressure on Tehran to stop uranium enrichment and curb its “terrorist” activities.

As the financial markets absorbed the implications of the action, oil rallied to a record high above $92 a barrel and the dollar tumbled to a record low.

At a meeting in Tehran, the reformist Islamic Iran Participation Front warned the country’s rulers of an escalating crisis with the international community and called for a review of nuclear policy.

“The government should refrain from its adventurous policies,” Mohsen Mirdamadi, the party’s secretary-general, told an audience of 200 people.

U.S. Secretary of State Condeleezza Rice, speaking on the “Today” show on NBC television in the United States, defended the new sanctions, saying: “The international community cannot just sit idly by until we face unpalatable choices. A nuclear weapon in the hands of the Iranian regime would be deeply destabilizing in the world’s most volatile region.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin had already criticized the move, saying it would force Tehran into a corner, and both Rice and the White House played down any disagreement with Moscow over Iran.

“We’re committed to a diplomatic process in dealing with Iran,” White House spokesman Tony Fratto said. “We would never take options off the table, but the diplomatic process is what we want to move forward with.”


In the latest reaction to Thursday’s announcement by Washington, China expressed its opposition to the sanctions, saying they could complicate the nuclear dispute with Iran.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao said in a short statement published on the ministry’s Web site: “China has always been opposed to imposing sanctions too rashly in international relations.”

In Brussels, the National Council of Resistance of Iran, Iran’s emigre opposition group, said Tehran might be closer to developing nuclear weapons than the three to eight years believed by the U.N. nuclear watchdog.

“According to our intelligence, the Iranian regime is closer to having a bomb than what Mr ElBaradei says,” the council’s expert, Alireza Jafarzadeh, told a news conference in the Belgian capitals, referring to Mohamed ElBaradei, the chief of the International Atomic Energy Agency.

The Council welcomed the U.S. sanctions, saying they would hit the operations of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard.

Iran’s former chief nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani, replaced last week by Saeed Jalili although still an influential figure, said on Friday the latest sanctions could push Tehran to rethink its cooperation with the IAEA.

“Other countries support and praise us regarding Iran’s cooperation with the agency,” Larijani said in comments reported by Iran’s ISNA news agency after his return from talks with European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana in Rome.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said he was worried about Iran’s nuclear program.

He told the newspaper La Stampa in Rome: “I hope that, even with the change in negotiators, things can move forward; it is important to continue negotiating with Iran.”