New York Times: Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s supreme religious leader, responded to mounting domestic criticism of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad with a strong statement of support, praising his internal policies and his dogged defense of the country’s nuclear program, Iranian news media reported Sunday.
The New York Times
By NAZILA FATHI
Published: August 24, 2008
TEHRAN — Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s supreme religious leader, responded to mounting domestic criticism of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad with a strong statement of support, praising his internal policies and his dogged defense of the country’s nuclear program, Iranian news media reported Sunday.
Senior clerics and politicians have intensified their criticism of Mr. Ahmadinejad, especially over Iran’s worsening economic conditions. Inflation recently hit 26 percent.
The ayatollah has publicly backed Mr. Ahmadinejad on several occasions, but his support for the government over the weekend was exceptional because of its detailed look at domestic issues and his categorical statements that he and the president were in ideological accord.
“The tone Mr. Khamenei used to support Mr. Ahmadinejad suggests that his intention was more than defending him against the attacks,” said Ahmad Zeidabadi, a political analyst in Tehran. “It appears that Mr. Ahmadinejad and Mr. Khamenei share the same views over major policies and ideological values, such as resisting the West and the nuclear policy.”
During a meeting with the president and his cabinet ministers on Saturday, Ayatollah Khamenei praised the government’s defense of its enrichment of uranium for nuclear fuel, calling it a symbol of the country’s “national identity,” newspapers reported.
“Some bullying and demanding countries wanted to impose their will on our country,” Ayatollah Khamenei was quoted as saying about Western insistence that Iran give up uranium enrichment. “But our people, and the president and his ministers, stood up to such demands.”
Ayatollah Khamenei went on to call Mr. Ahmadinejad a president who has revived the values of the early days of the Islamic Revolution and praised his “courage for trying to overcome major problems” and fight corruption.
He also lashed out at the president’s critics, saying that their constant negativity was destructive and berating them as losing sight of Mr. Ahmadinejad’s achievements amid what he called personal animosities.
However, the ayatollah urged the government to curb inflation. In particular, he backed off his initial support for Mr. Ahmadinejad’s plan to convert billions of dollars of food subsidies into cash handouts to the poor, saying that it should not be rushed because it could worsen inflation.
Mr. Ahmadinejad was elected in 2005 on a mandate to distribute Iran’s oil wealth among the poor. But prices have soared in the past three years, and the unemployment rate has increased.
His choice of political allies has also come under criticism. Mr. Ahmadinejad has resisted calls from Parliament this month to dismiss his vice president for tourism, Esfandiar Rahim Mashai, after Mr. Mashai said that the Israeli people were friends of Iran even though their government was an enemy.
Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, a former president and still an influential cleric, also criticized Mr. Ahmadinejad this month, in two speeches blaming him for mismanagement that has led to shortages of heating gas and electrical power.
“We can’t be satisfied with the way the country is being run,” he was quoted by newspapers as saying. “A country with abundant resources should not have gas cuts in winter and power cuts in summer, or have people spending hours in line waiting at gas stations.”
Mr. Rafsanjani was quoted by newspapers as saying that Ayatollah Khamenei had asked authorities to tolerate Mr. Ahmadinejad for some time. But Mr. Rafsanjani said that time was up.
“We tolerated the executive power in these three years,” he was quoted as saying. “Now we can say it is over.”