Top Iran cleric slams Ahmadinejad for nuclear diplomacy, inflation

Most senior dissident cleric says president concentrating too much on fiery, anti-US speeches and not enough on the economy.

Ahmadinejad wave 298.88 (photo credit: )
Ahmadinejad wave 298.88
(photo credit: )
Iran's most senior dissident cleric criticized President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for his nuclear diplomacy, saying it has harmed Iran, according to comments released Monday. Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri made his comments at a time when even conservatives have said Ahmadinejad has concentrated too much on fiery, anti-US speeches and not enough on the economy. But Montazeri, 85, expressed support for Iran's nuclear program, asserting that Iranians have rights beyond access to nuclear power like the rights to justice and well-being. "Is this our only definite right?" he asked regarding nuclear power. "Don't we have other rights?" he said, according to a copy of his comments made available to The Associated Press Monday. "One has to deal with the enemy with wisdom, not provoke it," the cleric said of Iran's nuclear diplomacy. "This (provocation) only creates problems for the country," he told a group of reformists and opponents of Ahmadinejad Friday in Qom, a holy city 130 kilometers (80 miles) south of Teheran. Prices of fruit, vegetables and food staples have skyrocketed since the United Nations Security Council imposed limited sanctions on Iran in December for defying a resolution demanding that it halt uranium enrichment, a process that can produce material to fuel nuclear reactors or provide fuel for bombs. "Some countries don't have oil and gas. Yet, they run their country and stand on their own. We have so much oil and gas but make useless expenditures work for others and don't think of our own people's problems, and the price of basic commodities goes higher and higher every day," Montazeri said, Montazeri appeared to be referring to Ahmadinejad's foreign trips, the latest of which was to Latin America, and to Iranian financial aid to the Palestinians. The Palestinian foreign minister for the Hamas-led government said last November while on a visit to Iran that it had given his government more than US$120 million over the previous year. Ahmadinejad was elected last year on a populist agenda promising to bring oil revenues to every family, eradicate poverty and tackle unemployment. And he has faced increasingly fierce criticism in recent weeks for his failure to meet those promises. He has blamed the previous administration saying he "inherited" the problems from them. On Sunday, Ahmadinejad said inflation was below 12 percent. Experts estimate it at 30 percent. "Saying that inflation is not beyond 13 percent and that things are good ... won't resolve economic problems. The government must forbid useless trips," Montazeri said.