(photo credit: AP)
President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad threatened Wednesday his government would expose details of conversations between a former Iranian nuclear negotiator whom the president had labeled a spy, and foreigners he was accused of colluding with.
But an increasing number of conservatives stepped forward to defend negotiator Hossein Mousavian, in a sign the issue was further eroding hardline Ahmadinejad's support.
The president's threat was in response to Mousavian's acquittal Tuesday in a case that has become a centerpiece in the feud between hard-line Ahmadinejad and his more liberal political rivals.
"I insist that the content of remarks conveyed by him (Mousavian) be published, so that the people know about it," Ahmadinejad was quoted by the official IRNA news agency as saying after a Cabinet meeting Wednesday, in what may be a move to try to embarrass his opponents.
Mousavian was accused by the Intelligence Ministry of passing classified information to foreigners, including the British Embassy, and was charged with "spying, keeping confidential documents and propagating against the ruling system."
He was found not guilty of the first two charges and guilty of the third charge, and the court also suspended a sentence against him. However, a sentence can't be ruled out if the prosecution objects to the court decision.
Intelligence Minister Gholam Hossein Mohseni Ejehi said the secret service will object to the verdict and will call for a new probe into the case, IRNA said.
The secret service allegedly has recorded conversations between Mousavian and unnamed foreigners during the meetings.
"Mr. Mousavian had 10-15 meetings with foreigners and said things. If the content of the conversations and the exchange of information is published, the issue will be clear," Ahmadinejad said.
But Ejehi said the publication of Mousavian's conversations needs court approval.
"We will definitely publish ... if the judiciary permits," Ejehi said. "The Intelligence Ministry will soon object to this ruling. We will convey our arguments to the judiciary and will ask for a reconsideration of the verdict."
But there was more dissent against the president Wednesday in comments backing Mousavian.
Conservative parliamentary speaker Gholam Ali Haddad Adel said one should be happy with Mousavian's acquittal, since only a court was competent to rule on such charges.
Mahmoud Mohammadi, a conservative lawmaker, said Mousavian must be praised for his persistent "bitter silence" in the face of high-profile accusations and for his "faith in the ruling system" and a court's fair verdict, according to semi-official Mehr news agency.
Alluding to Ahmadinehad, Mohammadi said it was "deploring to see some individuals unhappy" over Mousavian's acquittal.
According to Mehr, Ali Akbar Nateq Nouri, a top advisor to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said the espionage charges against Mousavian were "not true" - a clear slap to Ahmadinejad.
Last week, Mousavian's former boss, Hasan Rowhani, sharply criticized Ahmadinejad for prosecuting his colleague.
Rowhani's comments, published in several Iranian newspapers, reflected the mounting rivalry between Ahmadinejad and former President Hashemi Rafsanjani, a powerful figure in Iran's clerical leadership.
The former president's camp, which includes Rowhani, Mousavian and Iran's older more experienced politicians, has increasingly criticized Ahmadinejad for mismanaging the economy and creating enemies in Iran's nuclear standoff with the West.
Rafsanjani - head of the Assembly of Experts, one of the powerful cleric-run bodies that is empowered to choose or dismiss Iran's supreme leader - has emerged as a leader of disillusioned conservatives who once supported the hardline president.
In October, Rowhani delivered an unusually sharp rebuke to Ahmadinejad's policies, saying they are turning more countries against Iran and failing to fix the struggling economy.
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