JERUSALEM — A former president of Iran is calling on the Islamic republic to negotiate with the United States to avoid “an adventurous policy” involving Iranian-backed anti-Israel proxies in Lebanon and the Gaza Strip.
Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani also says Iran has no intention to produce an atomic bomb. “We sincerely believe that there is no need for nuclear weapons in the region,” he said in an interview published in the Iranian International Studies Journal.
Widely regarded as a moderate in Iranian politics, Mr. Rafsanjani was president from 1989 to 1997. He resigned last year from the Council of Experts that advises the supreme leader amid disagreements with the hard-line government of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
In his interview, which was translated by the Middle East Media Research Institute, Mr. Rafsanjani said he tried in vain to persuade Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, who founded Iran’s theocratic regime in 1979, to negotiate with Washington.
“I wrote him a letter by hand and gave it to him myself because I didn’t want anyone else to read it. I wrote that refraining from talks or ties with America could not go on forever. America is one of the stronger powers in the world,” he said.
Mr. Rafsanjani said he noted in his letter that Tehran was talking with other countries such as China and the Soviet Union. “Negotiating doesn’t mean that we are capitulating to them,” he said.
In a response to the interview, Hossein Shariatmadari, editor of the pro-government newspaper Kayhan, said Khomeini opposed dialogue with the U.S. “because Iran’s primary conflict has been and remains with America.”
Iran’s semi-official Fars News Agency, which is close to the elite Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, said that Mr. Rafsanjani’s call for a dialogue with Washington contradicts senior officials who have said that talks with the U.S. would produce no results.
The Iranian militia also noted that his call comes amid U.S. and Western sanctions against the regime’s nuclear program and heightened anti-American sentiments in the Middle East.
Mr. Rafsanjani said Iran’s national interests demand good relations with the U.S., which would help prevent “an adventurous policy” involving the Iranian-backed militant groups Hamas in Gaza and Hezbollah in Lebanon.
Mr. Rafsanjani had been considered Khomeini’s principal aide and held a series of top posts over the years.
However, his public criticism of current Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khameni and his support of the opposition during the last presidential election have put him at odds with the regime.
Pro-government newspapers expressed doubt that his remarks will influence the regime regarding upcoming negotiations with the West.