The Iranian government should hold direct negotiations with the United States to avoid possible military action against the Islamic Republic, Reuters quoted the country's top dissident cleric as saying. Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri was among Iranian leaders who authorized the 444-day occupation of the US embassy shortly after Iran's 1979 Islamic revolution. The event, in which 52 Americans were taken hostage, led Washington to sever diplomatic ties with Iran, which Montazeri said should now be restored. "The nuclear row should be resolved through direct talks with America to avoid a war. Talks about a possible military action should be taken seriously," Montazeri told pro-reform students on Friday in remarks faxed to Reuters on Tuesday. Montazeri said Iranian authorities were wrong if they thought "an attack would rally Iranians to the leadership as they did during the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war." "People have changed. They are not willing to sacrifice their lives like they did during the Iraq war," said Montazeri, who was detained under house arrest in Shi'ite Iran's holy city of Qom from 1998 until 2003. Montazeri blasted the clerical establishment for "repression", saying the harsh sentences handed out to political prisoners by the judiciary were "illegal and unashamed." "It is against the constitution," said Montazeri.