Former Iranian President Mohammad Khatami said protests against President Hassan Rouhani last week were “staged” and warned of a “violent movement” threatening his government and policies.
“At a time when the president has traveled to protect the nation and its dignity, and has been approved by the Supreme Leader, this current is seeking to undermine the government in ways that are strongly condemned by the Supreme Leader,” Khatami said in an address to veterans of the Iran-Iraq war yesterday, according to the Tehran-based Shargh newspaper.
Khatami’s remarks come after a group of egg-throwing protesters welcomed Rouhani on his return from a New York trip with placards reading “Death to the U.S.” The demonstrators, who were outnumbered by the president’s supporters, were upset at a 15-minute phone call between the Iranian leader and President Barack Obama on Sept. 27 — the highest-level encounter between the two governments since Iran’s 1979 Islamic revolution.
The protests weren’t “spontaneous but staged,” Khatami said. “Their number was few but their power is plenty.”
The cleric who was president for eight years until 2005, said the government of Rouhani enjoys a similar situation to his at the beginning of his first four-year term and warned that it may also be harmed “if these destructive currents aren’t stopped.”
Rouhani, took office in August after pledging to govern with moderation and to seek an easing of sanctions on his country by engaging with the West, including the U.S. While Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei has backed the president’s diplomatic approach, some politicians in the country remain opposed to any rapprochement with the U.S., which they consider untrustworthy.
“Power must be taken away” from the hardliners, Khatami said according to the daily. “They have podiums, newspapers and websites, let them go and make their point there.”
The leader of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, Major General Mohammad Ali Jafari, was cited by the state-run Tasnim news agency yesterday as criticizing Rouhani for the “tactical mistake” of talking to Obama.
In the first public criticism by a top official, Jafari said that if there were “errors made by officials, definitely the revolutionary forces and their sympathizers will issue the necessary warnings.”
Khatami, known to supporters as the “father of reforms”, lobbied during his time for improved relations with the West. During a visit to the U.S. in 2006, Khatami told a crowd at Harvard University that Iran and the U.S. need to work toward understanding each other, and condemned the September 11 terrorist attacks.
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