TEHRAN, Iran – Iran's former chief nuclear negotiator delivered an unusually sharp rebuke to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's policies Wednesday, saying they are turning more nations against Iran and failing to fix the struggling economy.
The comments by Hasan Rowhani were the harshest yet against the hard-line president by a prominent figure in the Iranian leadership, and came after critics had grown muted in recent month as the government stirred up fears of conflict with the U.S. and warned against dissent.
The criticism echoed complaints early this year from conservative supporters of Ahmadinejad that his inflammatory rhetoric was needlessly goading the West in the confrontation over Iran's nuclear program and that he hadn't fulfilled promises to improve the economy.
Rowhani was replaced as nuclear negotiator when Ahmadinejad came to office in 2005, but he remains a member of the Supreme National Security Council and sits on two powerful cleric-run bodies, the Experts Assembly and the Expediency Council.
Speaking to the pro-reform Moderation and Development Party, he did not directly mention Ahmadinejad, but was clearly referring to his policies. His comments were reported by the semiofficial ISNA and Mehr news agencies and confirmed to The Associated Press by people who heard the speech.
"On the international stage, we are under threat more than any other time," Rowhani said. "The country's diplomacy will be successful if it doesn't allow the enemy to win the backing of other countries against us. Unfortunately, the number of our enemies are increasing. Up to yesterday, Britain stood by the U.S., but now France has joined the United States more closely."
Rowhani had spoken little in public since he was removed as nuclear negotiator, a stint during which he helped seal a deal with the European Union under which Iran suspended uranium enrichment as a gesture to the West. After he was replaced, Iran resumed those activities and has pushed ahead with them despite U.N. sanctions and resolutions demanding a halt.
He indirectly criticized Ahmadinejad's frequent statements dismissing the effect of U.N. sanctions on Iran, saying "the economic impact is felt in the life of the people."
Turning to Iran's economic struggles, Rowhani said that despite high prices for Iran's oil, "we don't see a healthy and dynamic economy."
"If we had an accurate and comprehensive plan, most of the country's problems could have been resolvable," he said.
Rowhani said important policy decisions were being made by only a few people. "The views and opinions of others must be sought, too," he said, adding, "We can't reach adequate national unity with so much shortsightedness."
On Friday, Ahmadinejad denounced critics of his nuclear policies and made what appeared to be a dig at Rowhani for discussing the nuclear standoff with German officials during a visit to Germany in September.
"There are some people inside the country ... who want to intervene," Ahmadinejad said. "Some go wayward (without authorization) and say they want to talk. And enemies welcome them since they are in a deadlock and want a pretext to get out of deadlock."
Ahmadinejad's government insists it will continue with its nuclear program, arguing its uranium enrichment is intended only to produce fuel for nuclear reactors that will generate electricity.
But the United States and other nations accuse Iran of trying to develop nuclear weapons in violation of its treaty commitments. France has stepped up its warnings against Iran's program, and President Nicolas Sarkozy held talks in Russia on Wednesday seeking to crank up pressure on Tehran.
In addition to his defiance of U.N. Security Council demands to suspend uranium enrichment, Ahmadinejad has stirred up anger in the West with statements questioning the Holocaust and calling for Israel's Zionist regime to be "wiped from the map."
New York officials rejected his request while in the city for a U.N. meeting last month to visit the World Trade Center site to pay respects to victims of the Sept. 11 terror attack. Then during a lecture, he raised questions over the attack, saying the issues of "what caused it, what were the conditions that led to it, who truly was involved" needed to be examined.
In an interview with Iranian television aired Sept. 24, Ahmadinejad said the Sept. 11 attack was "a result of mismanaging and inhumane managing of the world by the U.S." and was being used as an excuse by the U.S. to attack others.
"The roots of this incident must be disclosed. It should not be turned into an idol like the Holocaust and be used for slaughtering people," he said. "The truths behind it should not remain unknown. September 11th must not become a holy thing like the Holocaust and its deniers be deemed as unbelievers and become victims of it."