TEHRAN — A reformist challenger to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad criticized the hard-liner's denial of the Holocaust, saying it has served Israel's interests and pushed Iran deeper into international isolation, a newspaper reported Saturday.
Moderate cleric Mehdi Karroubi is one of two reformist candidates hoping to unseat Ahmadinejad in the June 12 presidential election. The former parliament speaker has said he would pursue detente with the West and wouldn't mind meeting President Obama if it would help Iran's national interests.
"Ahmadinejad offered the greatest service to Israel by raising the Holocaust issue because the whole world stood to support Israel," Karroubi was quoted as saying by Etemad-e-Melli newspaper, which he controls.
The Iranian president has repeatedly said that the Holocaust is a myth, and he even sponsored an international conference in 2006 to debate whether the World War II genocide of Jews took place.
Ahmadinejad has also talked of Israel's elimination, although his exact remarks have been disputed.
The leading reformist candidate, Mir-Hossein Mousavi, has similarly slammed Ahmadinejad for waging a fierce rhetorical battle with the international community, leaving Iran with few allies.
"Today, excluding a few friends we've had for a long time, we have no appropriate interaction with the international community and are subject to threats," Mousavi was quoted as saying by Aftab-e-Yazd newspaper.
Apart from Israel, Ahmadinejad's most intense fight with the international community has been over Iran's nuclear program. Iran says its efforts are peaceful and focused on producing electricity, but the United States, Israel and many of their allies suspect that the Iranians are seeking to develop the capability to build atomic weapons.
The U.N. Security Council has imposed three rounds of economic sanctions on Iran because of its refusal to halt uranium enrichment, a technology that can be used to produce nuclear energy or an atomic bomb.
Many reformists and conservatives have accused the president of spending too much time criticizing the U.S. and Israel and not enough trying to fix the economy, which suffers from high inflation and unemployment rates despite the huge revenue generated by the country's oil fields.
Mousavi said Ahmadinejad ignored economists who warned that the president's plan to hand out cash to the masses would worsen inflation and burn through oil revenue that the government relies on for 70% of its budget.
"When economic experts warned that liquidity resulting from oil revenue would cause problems, nobody heeded the warnings," Mousavi was quoted by the paper as saying.
Ahmadinejad was elected in 2005 on a populist agenda promising to bring oil revenue to every family, eradicate poverty and tackle unemployment.
The president has defended his cash distributions, saying they would create jobs. But the unofficial unemployment rate tops 30%.