Mohsen Rezaei 248.88 AP.
(photo credit: AP)
An Iranian presidential candidate who is wanted by Interpol in the 1994 bombing of a Jewish center in Argentina said Sunday he is willing to cooperate with the US on regional security matters if elected.
Conservative candidate Mohsen Rezaei, speaking to reporters in Iran's capital, also criticized hard-line President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for his handling of the faltering economy and said his questioning of the Holocaust has "no benefit." He made no mention, however, of the Argentine bombing case, which he has never spoken about publicly.
Rezaei, who led Iran's Revolutionary Guards during the country's war with Iraq in the 1980s, is on a list of five Iranian officials sought by Interpol since 2007 for the Buenos Aires bombing that killed 85 people. Iran has rejected any link to the bombing.
He is not considered a strong challenger to Ahmadinejad in the June 12 vote. But if elected, Iran would have a leader who could be shunned by other nations and whose travel would likely be limited due to Interpol's decision to add him to its most wanted list.
Still, Rezaei, a moderate conservative, is positioning himself as a candidate aiming to reverse what he calls Ahmadinejad's harmful foreign policy.
On Sunday he addressed the Obama administration's efforts to engage Iran, saying his country should respond and test whether Washington is serious.
"We are ready to have interactions with foreign countries on preserving security, peace and tranquility in the region," he said.
Rezaei said Iran should not wait for the US to make the first move. He also hinted at a willingness to cooperate with the US in Afghanistan, as Iran did before former President George W. Bush labeled the country part of an "axis of evil."
Rezaei is among five Iranians sought by Argentina in the 1994 bombing. Argentine prosecutors allege that senior Iranian officials orchestrated the bombing and entrusted the Lebanon-based militant group Hezbullah to carry it out.
A van packed with explosives blew up on July 18, 1994, leveling the seven-story Jewish center. It killed 85 people and wounded 200. No one has been brought to justice in the attack.
In 2007, Interpol issued "red notices" for the five Iranians, the equivalent of putting them on its most-wanted list. The notices cannot force countries to arrest or extradite suspects, but can put government leaders on the spot and limit suspects' travel.
Iran has refused to hand over the suspects and has rejected the allegations, calling them political fabrications resulting from US and Israeli pressure.
The other suspects wanted by Interpol are former intelligence chief Ali Fallahian; Mohsen Rabbani, former cultural attache at Iran's embassy in Buenos Aires; Ahmad Reza Asghari, a former diplomat; and Ahmad Vahidi, a Revolutionary Guards general.
Hezbullah militant Imad Mughniyeh, once one of the world's most sought terrorism suspects, was also named in the Interpol notices. He was killed in a car bombing in Syria in 2008 that Hezbollah blamed Israel for. Israel denied it.
Despite some support in his home region in the oil-rich province of Khuzestan in southwestern Iran and among Iran-Iraq war veterans, the 57-year-old Rezaei is not considered likely to win in June.
Still, as one of four main candidates, he could siphon votes from Ahmadinejad, weakening his defense against reformist challengers who have also criticized him over the economy and his handling of foreign policy.
Attacking Ahmadinejad for his denial of the Holocaust, Rezaei said discussion of the World War II killings of Europe's Jews should be left to academics.
"It's denial or confirmation has no benefit."
He said Ahmadinejad's "adventurous" language and his "hastiness and weak presence in international meetings have been harmful."