A prominent Iranian opposition figure and former interior minister has called for a national referendum on the country's nuclear program, the opposition website Jaras reported Thursday.

"It is quite obvious that we should have the right to pursue a peaceful nuclear program but the question is whether it's worth sacrificing national interests for the sake of only one issue," Abdollah Nouri said at a meeting with student activists in Tehran.

"It would therefore be wise to let the people decide in a referendum about the nuclear dispute between Iran and the world powers," said Nouri, who is also a cleric.

The referendum would ask whether Iranians preferred to continue with the program or discontinue it in the face of Western sanctions and a dispute with world powers.

Nouri, 62, was interior minister in the cabinets of President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani (1989-93) and Mohammad Khatami (1997-98) but was forced to step down because of his critical approach towards the establishment.

In 1999 he became the first Iranian minister since the Islamic Revolution to face trial, over the publication of anti-Islamic materials and links to the political arch-enemy United States. A clerical court sentenced him to a five-year jail term.

He was released in 2002 and afterwards withdrew from politics. However it is rumored that he could be the reformist opposition candidate for next year's presidential election.

"It is said that the latest oil sanctions have decreased national income by 25 per cent and it is quite obvious that such a decrease will gravely affect the economy and people's lives," Nouri said.

He was referring to the latest round of European Union sanctions against Iran, in the form of an oil embargo which went into effect at the beginning of the month, which has led to further increases in inflation.

Iranian officials said that the EU move would help the country become independent from its oil, its main source of income.

Tehran and the world powers have been embroiled in a dispute about Iran's nuclear programme for almost ten years. The West believes Tehran is attempting to develop nuclear weapons, which it denies.