(photo credit: AP [file])
Iran's former top nuclear negotiator said Wednesday that President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's policies were turning more countries against Iran and had failed to fix the nation's ailing economy, in unusally sharp criticism of the hard-line leader.
Hasan Rowhani was replaced as nuclear negotiator when Ahmadinejad came to office in 2005, but he remains a high-ranking figure in Iran's leadership, as a member of the country's Supreme National Security Council and of two cleric-run bodies, the Experts Assembly and the Expediency Council.
Rowhani has spoken little in public since he was removed from his position. During his time as nuclear negotiator, he helped seal a deal with the Europeans under which Iran suspended uranium enrichment and reprocessing activities as a gesture to the West. After he was replaced by hard-line negotiators, Iran resumed those activities and has been pushing ahead with it, despite UN sanctions and resolutions demanding it be halted.
Rowhani made his comments in a speech Wednesday to the pro-reform Moderation and Development Party. He did not directly mention Ahmadinejad, but was clearly referring to his policies.
"On the international stage, we are under threat more than any other time. The country's diplomacy will be successful if it doesn't allow the enemy to win the backing of other countries against us," he said.
"Unfortunately, the number of our enemies is increasing. Up to yesterday, Britain stood by the US but now France has joined the United States more closely," he said.
Rowhani said "the degree of toleration among some officials is low. We can't reach adequate national unity with so much short-sightedness." He said important policy decisions had been "given to one group or a few individuals. The views and opinions of others must be sought too."
On the economy, Rowhani said that despite high oil prices, "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."
Rowhani's quotes were reported by the semi-official ISNA and Mehr news agencies and confirmed to The Associated Press by party members attending the speech.
The United States and its allies accuse Iran of seeking to develop a nuclear weapon, a claim Teheran denies, saying its nuclear program aims only to generate electricity. France has stepped up its warnings against Iran's program, and President Nicolas Sarkozy held talks with Russia on Wednesday aiming to crank up pressure on Teheran.
The United Nations has demanded Iran suspend enrichment because the process can produce the material for a nuclear warhead, as well as fuel for a peaceful reactor. Iran has refused, saying it has a right to develop the technology, and the UN has slapped it with limited sanctions.