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Advisor to Iranian supreme leader calls for tolerance of dissent

The midranking cleric urges the government to reach out to protesters, even as a top military official warns that troops are willing to sacrifice their lives to quell unrest.

July 12, 2009|Borzou Daragahi

BEIRUT — A top advisor to Iran's supreme leader Saturday urged the country's establishment to be more tolerant of dissent, even as military officials stepped up their rhetoric in the latest signs of divisions created by the marred reelection of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad one month ago.

Mohammad Mohammadian, a midranking cleric who heads Ayatollah Ali Khamenei's office of university affairs, acknowledged the simmering discontent over the vote, which sparked massive protests and a violent crackdown last month.

"We cannot order public opinion to get convinced," Mohammadian said, according to the Mehr news agency. "Certain individuals are suspicious about the election result, and we have to shed light on the realities and respond to their questions."

Providing an unyielding counterpoint, Maj. Gen. Hassan Firoozabadi, the armed forces chief of staff, issued warnings against protests.

"God has chosen us in military uniform to sacrifice our lives against the enemies," he said, according to the Iranian Students News Agency, or ISNA. "Certain individuals and groups imagine that we will back down if they shout slogans against us. We have come to die, and we have proved our determination during the war with Iraq."

As the verbal skirmishes continued, Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki responded Saturday to a U.S. and European call for talks on Iran's nuclear program, announcing that Tehran was preparing a set of proposals to serve as a basis for such discussions. President Obama said Friday that Iran would have until September to show it was serious about talks on its nuclear technology and research program.

"We are drawing up a package comprising our political, security, economic and international concerns," Mottaki said at a news conference, according to ISNA. "We believe that this package will serve as a good basis for dialogue about regional and global challenges we are grappling with."

Declarations of unease, discontent and anger over the June 12 election and subsequent crackdown on government opponents appeared to be on the rise Saturday.

In the holy city of Qom, Ayatollah Reza Ostadi, a senior member of the hard-line Assn. of Seminary Teachers, announced that he would stop delivering Friday sermons and teaching classes to seminarians because of his "anger at the status quo."

He cited "ongoing discrepancies" that have "stymied the country's progress" and complained that another cleric used the levers of state to aid Ahmadinejad by organizing a rally in his support.

"Why did this cleric play with the clean sentiments of people and others?" he said in a statement carried by Mehr. "Isn't there any organ to confront him? Those who participated in this rally should ask for God's forgiveness."

The Islamic Iran Participation Front, the nation's primary reformist grouping, also issued a statement posted to websites saying, "Those who have staged a coup against the republicanism of the system wish to remove the faithful and devoted elements from the social scene, hoping that in this way they could uproot the mighty and deep-rooted and homegrown reformist movement from the social scene in Iran."

Still, analysts expect neither the complaints from reformists nor the concerned comments by clerics to change the election outcome. Many within the establishment who harbor doubts about the election fear that a continuation of the unrest could undo the Islamic Republic.

"If even certain rights have been denied throughout the election process, nobody should make such a fuss," said Mohammadian, Khamenei's aide. "If the regime changes, everything would collapse."

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daragahi@latimes.com

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