- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 7, 2009

TEHRAN | A powerful former president said Saturday he will sue hardline leader Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for slander over remarks he made during an election debate.

In the latest obstacle to his campaign for re-election, Mr. Ahmadinejad has found himself in a bitter confrontation with Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani and another former president, reformist Mohammad Khatami, neither of whom is a candidate in Friday’s vote.

In a highly charged televised debate Wednesday, Mr. Ahmadinejad accused Mr. Rafsanjani, his sons and several other former top officials of corruption. It was an unusual move, given that Iranian politicians often avoid mentioning names in their attacks on opponents.

An outraged Mr. Rafsanjani rejected the accusations as “a complete set of lies” and demanded equal airtime to respond. On Saturday he went a step further, announcing that he and his sons will sue the president for slander.

Mr. Rafsanjani is a powerful figure in Iran’s clerical leadership and is considered an influential political insider. He lost to Mr. Ahmadinejad in 2005 and has not publicly backed any candidate this time around, but he is believed to support anyone against Mr. Ahmadinejad.

Mr. Rafsanjani is the head of the state Expediency Council, a body that arbitrates between parliament and an oversight body known as the Guardian Council. Mr. Rafsanjani, who held the presidency from 1989 to 1997, also heads the Assembly of Experts, one of the cleric-run bodies that is empowered to choose or dismiss Iran’s supreme leader.

In a statement released Saturday, Mr. Rafsanjani said Mr. Ahmadinejad has trampled his presidential oath to protect the honor of all citizens.

The statement did not say when the lawsuit would be filed, but Mr. Rafsanjani’s brother Mohammad said the former president and his sons would do so after the election to avoid any accusations that they were out to sabotage Mr. Ahmadinejad’s campaign.

A former conservative parliamentary speaker, Ali Akbar Nateq-Nouri, said he is also planning to sue the president over similar accusations Mr. Ahmadinejad aired against him.

Mr. Ahmadinejad’s bid for re-election has been burdened by Iran’s stumbling economy and accusations from rivals that his confrontational policies have left Iran with few friends in the world. He is up against a strong challenge by reformists who seek better ties with the West and greater freedoms at home.

During Wednesday’s debate, the president’s main reformist challenger, Mir-Hossein Mousavi, accused him of driving Iran toward “dictatorship” and hurting its standing in the world by questioning the Holocaust.

In addition to Mr. Mousavi, a former prime minister in the 1980s, Mr. Ahmadinejad’s other reformist rival is Mehdi Karroubi, a former parliamentary speaker. Mr. Ahmadinejad clashed with Mr. Karroubi in a televised debate Saturday, defending his controversial economic policies and questioning the cleric’s integrity. Mr. Karroubi, 72, in response accused the president of lying. The “government must be honest to the people” and “lying is the worst sin in Islam,” he said, according to Agence France-Presse.

The sole conservative challenger is Mohsen Rezaei, a former Revolutionary Guards commander.

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