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Iran's Ahmadinejad urges prosecution of opposition leaders

The Iranian president appears to be defying Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who had taken a more conciliatory stance toward dissenters. The U.N. nuclear watchdog issues latest report on inspections.

August 29, 2009|Borzou Daragahi

BEIRUT — Iran's hard-line president Friday demanded the prosecution of top opposition leaders, raising the political temperature anew just a day and a half after supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei sought to cool tensions in a conciliatory speech.

Meanwhile, the United Nations' atomic monitoring agency delivered a quarterly assessment of Iran's controversial nuclear program, reporting that the Islamic Republic had granted inspectors access to sensitive research sites but has continued to stonewall efforts to examine past nuclear research that is alleged to be weapons-related.

During a pre-sermon speech at weekly prayers in Tehran, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad did not name his reformist rivals, former Prime Minister Mir-Hossein Mousavi and former parliament Speaker Mehdi Karroubi, but left little doubt that he was speaking about them in calling for the punishment of the "masterminds" of weeks of public unrest that followed the disputed June 12 election.

"The most important task for the judiciary and security bodies is to deal seriously with the leaders and masterminds" of the unrest, he said, undermining the conciliatory tone set by Khamenei this week. "All of those who organized and instigated [the riots] and followed the enemy line have to be seriously confronted. The masterminds of the riots should by no means enjoy any immunity."

The crowd inside the Tehran University venue chanted, "Execution for the ringleaders!"

In an ongoing televised trial, detainees have accused reformist leaders of fomenting the unrest and collaborating with Iran's foreign rivals. Ahmadinejad's comments appeared to confirm reports that he has personally been behind efforts to haul leading political opponents into court.

On Wednesday, Khamenei made a conciliatory speech welcoming the opposition back into the nation's political fold and rejecting the assertion that the dissent has been orchestrated by foreign interests.

Ahmadinejad's decision to risk angering Khamenei, whose staunch loyalists make up much of his political base, baffled observers. The president faces a huge challenge in the coming days over his proposed Cabinet, which many members of his conservative camp in parliament have vowed to forcefully scrutinize. His picks have to be approved by lawmakers.

Although a harsh security crackdown appears to have quelled the public protests that erupted amid allegations of vote-rigging in the presidential election, it has failed to quiet dissent by reformist and moderate politicians even in the face of threats of jail.

"We will not budge regardless of all the pressures aimed at dislodging reformists," former President Mohammad Khatami said at a meeting of reformist political activists Thursday. "We can no longer defend our Islamic Republic against rigid-minded, extremist and inhumane groups working under the name of Islam."

Analysts said Ahmadinejad may be seeking to undermine any effort at accommodating the opposition movement that Mousavi and others are seeking to build and legitimize, convinced that any tolerance of his domestic political enemies would only come at a cost to his political power.

The postelection dysfunction has also complicated efforts by the Obama administration to engage Iran in talks over its nuclear program. Tehran says it is refining uranium solely for civilian energy purposes, but the U.S. and Western allies allege its goal is to produce nuclear weapons.

Friday's quarterly report by the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency, or IAEA, to its governing board, suggested Iran had continued producing reactor-grade enriched uranium at about the same pace as before the June election and was operating about the same number of centrifuges, though since May it had installed at least 1,300 new ones at its facility in Natanz.

According to the report, which was obtained by The Times, Iran says it has at least 3,318 pounds of reactor-grade uranium, more than the 2,400 or so pounds necessary for a single nuclear bomb -- if the government were to break its treaty obligations and further enrich its supply to weapons-grade standards.

"What we've seen has been a straight line up," said Jacqueline Shire, an arms control expert at the Institute for Science and International Security in Washington. "The report shows a steady trajectory, with no additional expansion except for the sudden rise of installed centrifuges."

The report said Iran had granted a long-standing request for international inspectors to visit a heavy-water nuclear plant in Arak; allowed the installation of additional surveillance equipment at Natanz; given better access to records; and agreed to better accommodate surprise inspections.

But the report took Iran to task for what it describes as its refusal to clear up questions about the "alleged studies," a set of classified documents that purport to show that Tehran was pursuing activities consistent with a clandestine nuclear weapons program until six years ago.

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