Ahmadinejad's letter to Obama sparks storm in Iran 

By Nazila Fathi Published: November 10, 2008

TEHRAN: President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad received praise from Iranian opposition 
politicians and withering criticism from its conservatives after he sent Barack 
Obama a letter last week congratulating him on winning the U.S. presidential 

But in a sign that conservatives fear their attacks might inadvertently 
strengthen a possible opposition candidate in Iran's own presidential vote in 
June, their criticism has quickly shifted to early support for Ahmadinejad's 

The potential opponent is former President Mohammad Khatami, the moderate whom 
Ahmadinejad bested in the last elections, in 2005. Khatami has not yet 
announced his candidacy, but is under pressure from his political allies to run.

On Friday, Obama offered a public reaction to the letter in his first 
post-election news conference, saying that he would review it and respond 
appropriately. But he also said that Iranian "support for terrorist 
organizations has to ease" and that its suspected development of nuclear 
weapons was not acceptable.

On Saturday, opposition politicians offered praise for Ahmadinejad's outreach. 
The letter "presented a humane, reasonable and peace-seeking image of Iran," 
according to the daily newspaper Etemaad.

But other newspapers, as well as conservative members of Parliament, criticized 

The hard-line Jomhuri Islami newspaper, in an editorial, said that initiating 
contact with the United States was among the responsibilities of Ayatollah Ali 
Khamenei, the supreme religious leader, not of Ahmadinejad. Relations broke off 
in 1979, after the Islamic Revolution in February and the takeover of the U.S. 
Embassy in Tehran by hard-line students in November.

The speaker of Parliament, Ali Larijani, referred to Obama's noncommittal 
response and said the United States "was not moving in the right direction" for 
improving relations.

Ahmad Tavakoli, a conservative member of Parliament, released a public letter 
saying Ahmadinejad's unilateral efforts had been met with "arrogant responses" 
and did not serve the country's dignity.

But by Sunday, the criticism had evaporated, and some conservative politicians 
had started to praise the letter.

Another conservative member of Parliament, Mehdi Koochakzadeh, said Sunday 
night that Ahmadinejad's letter was "for the expedience of the regime and with 
the approval of the supreme leader," according to the Alef Web site, which is 
run by Tavakoli.

In addition, an editorial in the daily Kayhan, a leading conservative 
newspaper, said that Ahmadinejad was the "most qualified candidate" for the 
presidential race despite the criticisms of him. It argued that his 
achievements were more significant than his failures.

Ahmadinejad is popular in smaller towns and villages, where he has distributed 
financial aid. In contrast, Khatami would be expected to draw support from 
large cities.

One analyst suggested that the conservatives were trying to get the opposition 
to choose a different candidate.

"Maybe the conservatives are signaling to reformers that if they go after Mr. 
Khatami, they would get unified behind Ahmadinejad despite their differences 
with him," said Badr-al-sadat Mofidi, the deputy editor of the opposition 
Kargozaaran daily. "The unity among conservatives can change if the reformers 
do not nominate Mr. Khatami."

In what appeared to be another signal of easing pressures on Ahmadinejad, 
several members of Parliament have indicated that they would vote for his 
nominee to fill the post of interior minister. Parliament fired Interior 
Minister Ali Kordan last week for lying about an honorary doctorate he said he 
had received from Oxford University.

The nominee, Sadeq Mahsouli, is a close ally of Ahmadinejad. But the previous 
Parliament - which was more closely aligned with the president - rejected 
Mahsouli's candidacy for the post of oil minister after doubts were raised 
about the source of his vast fortune.

Mahsouli is a former commander of the Revolutionary Guards, which have used 
their vast power in Iran to control parts of its economy.

Ahmadinejad is suffering politically from the damage to the Iranian economy 
caused by high inflation and a sharp drop in oil prices. Sixty economists 
warned in a public letter to the president that his hostile attitude to the 
rest of the world was causing lost trade and investment for the country, 
newspapers reported Saturday.

The letter criticized the government for spending too much of the oil revenues, 
and for policies that the economists said had deprived the country of foreign 

It said that the UN Security Council sanctions over Iran's refusal to suspend 
sensitive uranium enrichment activities had cost the country billions of 



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