TEHRAN — A powerful Iranian cleric Friday warned President Obama to stay away from the harsh rhetoric of the Bush administration in dealing with the Islamic Republic's nuclear program.
Ayatollah Hashemi Rafsanjani, a former Iranian president now head of two important religious councils, told thousands gathered for a weekly sermon before prayers in Tehran that Iran was listening closely for signs of change from Washington.
"We are still waiting for the new U.S. administration to declare its wise stand, since otherwise they would waste another few years of our time by repeating Bush's words regarding the need for Iran to halt its nuclear program, threatening us, or offering impractical, unclear promises," said Rafsanjani, according to the official Islamic Republic News Agency.
He said that if Obama improves relations with Iran, the U.S. could count on "Iran's cooperation" in resolving "regional problems."
Rafsanjani spoke two days after President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said Iran would be open to talks provided the U.S. changes its Mideast policies.
Rafsanjani is considered a relative moderate within Tehran's circle of power and a rival to Ahmadinejad.
On Thursday, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs told reporters in Washington that Obama "hasn't changed his viewpoint that he should preserve all his options" regarding Iran's nuclear program. Gibbs also rebuffed a report in Britain's Guardian newspaper citing unnamed diplomats describing several draft letters to Iran being pondered by the White House and State Department to break the diplomatic ice with the Islamic Republic. The Guardian report said the letter would be a response to a congratulatory note from Ahmadinejad.
Relations with the U.S. are a hot-button issue in Iran ahead of the May presidential vote; Ahmadinejad confirmed this week that he would seek reelection. Polls have shown that most Iranians favor better ties.