Iran Guards chief criticises Rouhani-Obama call

AFP — Sept 30, 2013

Iran’s Revolutionary Guards chief said Monday President Hassan Rouhani should have refused a telephone call from his US counterpart, in the first public criticism of the move by a senior official.

Rouhani’s landmark conversation with Barack Obama last week was the first contact between leaders of the two countries since the rupture of diplomatic relations in the aftermath of the 1979 Islamic revolution.

“The president took a firm and appropriate position during his stay” in New York for the United Nations General Assembly, General Mohammad Ali Jafari said in an interview with the Tasnimnews.com website.

“But just as he refused to meet Obama, he should also have refused to speak with him on the telephone and should have waited for concrete action by the United States.”

Jafari said the Iranian government could make “tactical errors” but added that these could be “repaired”.

“If we see errors being made by officials, the revolutionary forces will issue the necessary warnings,” added the commander of the elite Guards who consider themselves as defenders of the values of the revolution.

The criticism came despite appeals earlier this month by both Rouhani and supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei for the Guards, to steer clear of politics.

Jafari said Washington should respond to the good will shown by Rouhani in New York by “lifting all sanctions against the Iranian nation, releasing Iranian assets frozen in the United States, ending its hostility towards Iran and accepting Iran’s nuclear programme.”

The commander of the Guards air wing General Amir-Ali Hadjizadeh told the corps’ own sepahnews.com website that “US hostility can’t be forgotten with a phone call and a smile”.

But Defence Minister Hossein Dehghan backed Rouhani’s decision, arguing that Obama’s call was the sign of Iran’s “the power and greatness”.

Before and during his stay in New York, Rouhani indicated he had “full authority” on the nuclear negotiations with the West, and the support of Khamenei.

The supreme leader has yet to comment on the telephone conversation, but on September 17 he said it was “unnecessary” for the Guards to get involved in politics.

The previous day, Rouhani called on the Guards to “stand above political tendencies”.

Rouhani, elected in June on a platform of easing confrontation with the West and lifting sanctions that pummelled the Iranian economy, accepted a phone call from Obama on Friday, and the pair spoke for 15 minutes.

The impetus for the call came from Iranian officials.

The momentous conversation was broadly welcomed in the Iranian press as well as abroad, but a small group of hardline Islamists protested outside Tehran’s Mehrabad airport on his return.

A shoe was thrown, as the protesters chanted: “Death to America,” a slogan that was long a ritual refrain at official rallies.

In addition to the telephone call, Iran held talks Thursday with foreign ministers of the major powers on the framework for negotiations on its nuclear programme which are due to be held in Geneva on October 15-16.

The West wants major concessions from Tehran including the suspension of all enrichment of uranium beyond the level required to fuel nuclear power plants, and the closure of Iran’s underground enrichment facility near the central city of Qom.

The United States and Israel have refused to rule out military action to halt Iran’s nuclear drive, which they say is aimed at developing atomic weapons.

The West wants major concessions from Tehran including the suspension of all enrichment of uranium beyond the level required to fuel nuclear power plants, and the closure of Iran’s underground enrichment facility near the central city of Qom.

Iran insists its nuclear drive is entirely peaceful in nature and that it is enriching uranium to five and 20 percent only to generate electricity and for medical purposes.

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