rafsanjani - AP - Sept 14 2010
Iranian ex-president Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani at the annual meeting of the country's Experts' Assembly. Photo by AP
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Former Iranian President, Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, who currently serves as the chairman of the Expediency Discernment Council of Iran, spoke against Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s foreign policy, urging Ayatollah Ali Khameini engage in direct discussions with the United States.

In an interview published last week in the Iranian quarterly “International Research," Rasjafani said that Iran's “current foreign policy regarding the U.S. – by which we do not speak with them and they do not speak with us, cannot continue.”

Rasjafani, who served as Iran’s president from 1989 to 1997, said that the “U.S. is the strongest nation in the world. What really is the difference between the U.S. and Europe, or Russia, or China? If we speak to those countries, why not speak to the U.S.? It does not mean that we are giving in. Discussions are meant to understand if the U.S. accepts our position, or if we accept theirs. Nothing more.”

Since being president, Rasjafani said that he wanted to “establish relations with Egypt, but I could not. I wanted to start negotiations with the U.S., but I couldn’t. I couldn’t, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t want to.” In his statements, Rasjafani hinted that the supreme leader did not allow him to.

The former Iranian president's comments about Israel were slightly out of the ordinary.

“I said once to that nuclear weapons are not in the Israeli conquering government’s best interest. If a nuclear war were to break out, Israel is a small country that cannot absorb a nuclear strike. Even though they understood my statement as a threat, I believe with all of my heart that the whole area should be free of nuclear weapons. That was always our policy,” said Rasjafani.

Rasjafani also blamed Ahmadinejad for Iran’s poor relations with Saudi Arabia. He said that if Teheran and Riyadh had better relations, the latter would not have been willing to produce more oil do offset the shortage created by sanctions on Iran. That way, Rasjafani claimed, the west would have a harder time placing more sanctions on the Iranian regime.

Rasjafani made another unusual comment for an Iranian official on the nature of Tehran's ties with Hezbollah and Hamas, saying that if the Islamic Republic continued "providing support to Lebanon and the Palestinians [Hezbollah and Hamas] within the correct framework of international policy, there would be no problem."
"If we want to improve our relations with the world, we must make a distinction on this subject. It is possible to defend aid to Lebanon and the Palestinians as long as they aren’t using it to create problems for others, and without deciding how aid should be used. When the Iranian government is not being adventurous, aid to Lebanon and the Palestinians becomes tolerable,” the former Iranian president said.

Meanwhile, the head of the Iranian nuclear agency, Pridon Abassi, stated on Sunday that Tehran would “enrich uranium to 20% in a quantity in line with to our needs, and no more.”

Abassi said in an interview with local media that Iran needs uranium enriched to 20% for research purposes, in conjunction with plans to create a nuclear research center for medical needs. According to Abassi, after producing the amount requested by Teheran, Iran will cease enriching uranium at 20%, and will return to 3.5%.

This is the first time that Iran has defined in terms of quantity, albeit vaguely, its threshold for enriching uranium to a level of 20%. Perhaps this is Iran’s first concessional gesture leading up the negotiations with western powers this weekend.

Abassi also rejected the possibility of purchasing enriched uranium from other nations: “We have invested substantial sums in our production facilities and are capable of exporting enriched uranium to other nations.”

Negotiations between the permanent members of the security council plus Germany, and Iran, are expected to begin in Istanbul on Saturday. Recently, a message from US President Barack Obama was passed to Ayatollah Khameini, permitting Iran to enrich uranium for peaceful purposes only.

The message was said to have been carried by Turkish Prime Minster Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who met with Khameini last week. The Turkish ambassador to Iran however, denied that Erdogan passed any message from Obama to Khameini.