AP: Iran's supreme leader was quoted Sunday as praising President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for "standing up to" the West in a dispute over the country's nuclear program, amid growing domestic criticism of the president's management.
The Associated Press
By ALI AKBAR DAREINI
TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — Iran's supreme leader was quoted Sunday as praising President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for "standing up to" the West in a dispute over the country's nuclear program, amid growing domestic criticism of the president's management.
Ayatollah Ali Khamenei offered unusually glowing praise of Ahmadinejad, who upon his election in 2005 sparked a confrontation with the West by resuming uranium enrichment and also prompted worldwide condemnation for denouncing Israel. The country's spiritual leader has rarely, if ever, expressed such support for any other Iranian politician.
Ahmadinejad is facing a firestorm of criticism at home, particularly over his handling of the economy. He won office on a campaign promise to distribute Iran's oil wealth to each family. But Iran increasingly faces skyrocketing food and fuel prices, unemployment and inflation.
Ahmadinejad's government has helped "revive" the values of the 1979 Islamic revolution that transformed Iran into a strict theocracy, state TV quoted Khamenei as saying at a Cabinet meeting Saturday.
"Some bullying and brazen countries and their worthless followers wanted to impose their will on the Iranian nation, but … the president and the government have stood up to their excessive demands and moved forward," he said.
The U.N. Security Council has imposed three sets of sanctions against Iran for refusing to halt uranium enrichment, a technology that can be used to create fuel for nuclear power plants or build an atomic bomb.
Iran says its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes only, to generate power and reduce the country's reliance on oil. But the United States and its allies accuse it of seeking to develop nuclear weapons, a charge Tehran denies.
"Pursuing an aggressive spirit toward world bullies is a manifestation of the government's loyalty to revolutionary slogans and discourse," Khamenei was quoted as saying.
The recent criticism of the president has focused on the economy, which has foundered amid global food shortages as well as sanctions imposed by the West.
Last week, a still-powerful former president, Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, lambasted Ahmadinejad's handling of the economy, blaming him for gas shortages in winter and power cuts during summer.
Dozens of people froze to death last winter in Iran, because of natural gas cuts that left them without heat in their homes. Summertime electricity blackouts also spoiled food, hurt businesses and disrupted air conditioning at a time when temperatures reach an average of around 113 degrees during the day.
"We can't be satisfied with the way the country is being administered. … A country with abundant resources should not have gas cuts in winter and electricity cuts in summer, or have people spending hours (in line) at gas stations," several Iranian newspapers quoted Rafsanjani as saying.
"Obviously, these problems are due to mismanagement," he said.
Iranian newspapers also quoted Rafsanjani as telling university teachers last week that Khamenei asked him and other top authorities to tolerate Ahmadinejad's government for some time but that the era of leniency was now over.
"We tolerated the executive power in these three years. Now, we can say it's over," Rafsanjani was quoted as saying.
On Sunday, political analyst Majid Mehrabi said Khamenei's strong support was meant to tamp growing attacks against Ahmadinejad.
"Khamenei's comment is an open support for Ahmadinejad. His backing of Ahmadinejad is also an answer to growing criticism of the government," said Mehrabi, a writer at the conservative Hamshahri daily.
Ahmadinejad has portrayed himself as a champion of the poor, but he has failed to deliver on promises to eradicate poverty and tackle unemployment.
The government estimates Iran's unemployment rate at 10 percent, but economists say it could be as high as 30 percent.