April 7, 2009
Iranian Presidential Candidate Calls Ahmadinejad an Extremist
By NAZILA FATHI
TEHRAN — Rejecting the policies of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as “extremist,” a leading presidential candidate said Monday that he favored improved relations with the West and greater individual freedoms at home.
Mir Hussein Moussavi, a former prime minister who announced his candidacy last month, lashed out at what he called “extremism” and “mismanagement” by Mr. Ahmadinejad, policies that he said were “jeopardizing the country’s interests.”
“We need to pursue an active foreign policy to achieve détente,” he said at a news conference here. “Extremism has cost us a high price. We have to work hard to build international confidence.”
But he said he would not back down from the country’s nuclear program, which began when he was prime minister from 1980 to 1988. Instead, he said, he would try to build international confidence that Iran’s nuclear ambitions were peaceful.
“Weaponization and nuclear technology are two separate issues, and we should not let them get mixed up,” he said.
The United States and some Western countries have accused Iran of having a clandestine nuclear weapons program, but Iran contends that its program is aimed at producing nuclear energy.
Still, the presidential race seems to be shaping up as a clear choice on June 12 between Mr. Ahmadinejad and Mr. Moussavi. For now, they are the leading candidates, although there is still time for others to enter the race.
Former President Mohammad Khatami was considered a leading moderate candidate until he withdrew from the race when Mr. Moussavi entered. Aides said he quit so as not to split the vote against Mr. Ahmadinejad.
Mr. Moussavi, 68, is remembered for his protectionist economic policies and for introducing food rationing. An architect and painter, he has not held a government post since the Constitution was amended to eliminate the position of prime minister in 1989.
He is seen as more conservative than Mr. Khatami, and consequently would be expected to face less opposition. Mr. Khatami, president from 1997 to 2005, acquired strong enemies among politicians who opposed his policies of greater political and social openness.
Mr. Moussavi said Monday that he favored freedoms of speech and the press and would try to change the law that bans private television stations.
He said that relations with the United States would have advantages for Iran and he acknowledged the change of tone in the new American administration. “But we have to wait and see how it will change the accusations against us,” he said, referring to charges that Iran is trying to build a nuclear bomb and that it supports terrorists.
Responding to a question about the Holocaust, which Mr. Ahmadinejad has dismissed as a myth, he said, “Islam is against killing of anyone, even one person, and considers it genocide.”
“But we do not understand why the Palestinians should pay for it now,” he added.
Although asked twice about the Holocaust, he did not explicitly acknowledge its existence.