(photo credit: AP [file])
Former Iranian president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani accused the United States on Friday of stepping up its confrontation with Iran on several fronts and seeking to undermine his country's economy.
The comments by Rafsanjani, a powerful figure in Iran's clerical leadership, came as the United States has vowed to take greater action to roll back Iranian influence across the Middle East, particularly in Iraq and Lebanon.
US President George W. Bush blasted Iran in his State of the Union address on Tuesday, accusing it of backing "Shi'ite extremists" in Iraq and the Shi'ite Hizbullah group in Lebanon, as well as of seeking to develop nuclear weapons.
The White House said Friday that Bush has authorized US forces in Iraq to take whatever actions are necessary to counter Iranian agents deemed a threat to American troops or the public at large - a sign of a more assertive policy to push back on Iran on that front.
The United States is also beefing up its military presence in the Gulf as a signal to Iran, sending a second aircraft carrier to the region and deploying Patriot missiles. The deployment has alarmed Iranian leaders, who have stepped up warnings to the Iranian public that the US might attack.
In a Friday prayer sermon at a Teheran mosque, Rafsanjani told worshippers, "Today our enemies have come with several issues against us while having supporters in the world communities. This is bullying."
He said the ultimate aim is to force Iran to "abandon nuclear energy" and "ignore our legal right" to a nuclear program. Tehran insists its nuclear program is peaceful and has come under UN sanctions for refusing to suspend its uranium enrichment program.
He said the US military buildup aimed to make Iran worry about a possible US attack. "This is an ominous plan to frighten our nation and affect life of our nation; to weaken investment, to weaken production, to make people to hide their wealth," said Rafsanjani while urging authorities to pay more attention to people.
The cleric said Iran should counter the US campaign with "a psychological war in their home." He did not elaborate.
Ranfsanjani, who was president from 1989-1997, is head of Iran's Expediency Council, a powerful clerical body, and a top rival to hard-line President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Seen as a relative moderate, Rafsanjani lost to Ahmadinejad in 2005 elections but his supporters scored a major victory over Ahmadinejad's in city elections late last year.