President Hassan Rouhani called on Tuesday for Iran's universities to admit more foreign students and lecturers, dismissing conservatives' fears that more interaction with the outside world would encourage espionage.
His remarks at Tehran University appeared to be a fresh riposte to hardliners in the Islamic Republic's faction-ridden political leadership who have been waging a determined campaign against his policies of international engagement.
In a speech marking the start of the academic year broadcast live on state television, Rouhani urged the establishment of a university teaching in English and suggested Iranian academic life had much to gain from more international exposure.
"Some people say that if we have contact with the outside world, if our teachers go abroad and their professors come here, maybe someone will be a spy among them. Stop making excuses!" he said to audience applause.
"Even if I don't have expertise in anything else, at least your president has expertise in national security," said Rouhani, a relative moderate with a decades-long pedigree in senior government posts, including chief nuclear negotiator with major powers.