Top Iran reformist attacked for meeting German envoy
TEHRAN, March 11 (AFP) Mar 11, 2008
Iranian hardliners on Tuesday launched a bitter pre-election attack on the brother of reformist ex-president Mohammad Khatami for meeting the German ambassador ahead of the latest nuclear sanctions against Tehran.
The hardline daily Kayhan published what it claimed was a partial transcript of the meeting between Mohammad Reza Khatami and ambassador Herbert Honsowitz that touched on the nuclear crisis and Friday's parliamentary elections.
Contacts between Iranians and embassies have become an extremely sensitive issue under President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, especially after ex-nuclear official Hossein Moussavian was arrested for allegedly handing secrets to the British.
"It was to be expected that in the conversation he (Mohammad Reza Khatami) would have challenged the ambassador of one of the hostile European nations," said Kayhan in a litany of complaints over the meeting.
"It was to be expected that he would not pour his heart out... to the ally of America and Israel and make unreal comments."
Kayhan, whose editor-in-chief is appointed by Iran's supreme leader and whose thinking reflects that of top hardliners, did not disclose from where it had obtained the purported transcript of the meeting.
In its headline, the paper accused Khatami of expressing "worries about Iran's nuclear victory in a confidential meeting with the German ambassador".
The attack underlines the hostility between conservatives and some reformists, who are themselves furious that their election chances have been wrecked by the disqualification of hundreds of candidates by hardline bodies.
"The attack (by Kayhan) is to discredit the reformists ahead of the elections by denouncing them as the party of foreigners," said a diplomat in Tehran.
Mohammad Reza Khatami is a former deputy speaker of parliament who was also head of one of the main reformist parties, the Islamic Iran Participation Front.
Married to a granddaughter of the Islamic republic's revolutionary founder Ruhollah Khomeini, he is still a member of the party's executive.
The controversy over the meeting first erupted on Sunday when conservative deputy parliament speaker Mohammad Reza Bahonar held a debate with Khatami ahead of the parliamentary elections.
Expressing concern about contacts with "enemies", Bahonar publicly challenged Khatami to confirm he had met the German ambassador just before the UN Security Council passed a third set of sanctions earlier this month.
Khatami confirmed the meeting had taken place and insisted he had told the ambassador that any resolution against Tehran would harm democratic progress in Iran.
"If some friends met with foreign ambassadors and were looking forward to the third resolution... this would be to the disadvantage of Iran," Bahonar said, according to the ISNA news agency.
Asked how he was aware that the meeting had taken place, Bahonar replied: "You think that the system should not hear about these things?"
Although not a permanent member of the Security Council, Germany was one of the world powers pushing for tighter sanctions against Tehran over its refusal to suspend uranium enrichment.
The German embassy in Tehran declined to comment.
Foreign ministry spokesman Mohammad Ali Hosseini said there was nothing wrong with contacts between Iranians and embassies in Tehran but the foreign ministry had to be informed.
In this case, "the foreign ministry was not informed", he said.
Meanwhile, a similar controversy was brewing over an interview given this week from the United States by leading reformist MP Noureddine Pir Mouazaem to the Persian service of the US-funded Voice of America.
Pir Mouazem crticised the disqualifications of reformists in the interview, which was roundly mocked on state television news late Monday. The Fars news agency reported he may not return to Iran.
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