Ahmadinejad calls out nuclear critics

The president of Iran called critics of his nuclear policy West-friendly “traitors.”

;TEHRAN, Iran (AP) – Hard-line President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad blasted critics of his nuclear policies on Monday, calling them “traitors” who spied for Iran’s enemies. His strongest rhetoric yet against domestic opponents raised concerns about a crackdown on dissent.

The tough comments appeared aimed at silencing calls for Ahmadinejad to compromise with the West over Iran’s nuclear program at a time of increasingly high-level criticism of his policies within the country’s ruling establishment.

Ahmadinejad has moved to exert greater control over the nuclear issue, replacing Iran’s top nuclear negotiator, Ali Larijani, with a close loyalist – a step that angered even some conservative politicians.

The president has long faced domestic criticism that he was failing to improve the worsening economy, and has needlessly worsened the standoff with the West with his inflammatory speeches.

But more leading figures have recently spoken out. Last month, Larijani’s predecessor as top nuclear negotiator, Hasan Rowhani, delivered an unusually sharp rebuke to Ahmadinejad, saying he was making more enemies for Iran with his policies.

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown pledged Monday to press for tough new sanctions on Iran’s oil and natural gas industries over the nuclear standoff. German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Nicolas Sarkozy both called for Russia and China to help increase pressure on Iran.

One of Iran’s most powerful cleric-politicians, former president Ayatollah Akbar Hashemi Rasfanjani, issued a veiled criticism of Ahmadinejad last week, saying officials must “avoid immaturity and not cause trouble for the people.”

Ahmadinejad warned Monday that he would expose his critics, saying, “They are traitors.”

“If internal elements do not stop pressures concerning the nuclear issue, they will be exposed to the Iranian nation,” Ahmadinejad said in a speech to students at Tehran’s Science and Industry University. “We have made promises to the people and believe anyone giving up over the nuclear issue is a traitor.”

He accused critics of regularly providing “the enemy” with “information from within the ruling system.”

“We even have a recorded speech of one of them who tells the enemy, ‘Why should you give up? … Step up pressures to make them (Iran) retreat,'” Ahmadinejad said, without identifying that person, according to the state television Web site.

The president said one official has already been arrested for espionage and accused his critics of pressuring the courts to acquit him.

“But I announce here that the Iranian nation won’t allow these persons and groups to use political and economic influence to save criminals from the clutches of justice,” he said.

Ahmadinejad did not name the official. But Hossein Mousavian – a Rafsanjani ally who served as top nuclear negotiator under reformist former President Mohammad Khatami – was briefly detained this year. Authorities have not said what charges he faces, but the semiofficial Fars news agency has reported that the charges were likely related to espionage.

Rafsanjani, who lost to Ahmadinejad in 2005 elections, has emerged as the leader of Iran’s camp of moderate conservatives, many supporters of Ahmadinejad who became disillusioned with his rule. The camp is likely the most worrisome domestic challenge for Ahmadinejad, since – unlike more liberal reformists – they have influence with Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Rafsanjani on Monday warned that Iran was facing “serious threats,” appearing at a Tehran conference, with Rowhani and Mousavian sitting next to him. It was Mousavian’s first major public appearance since being released in May.

Reformist lawmaker Esmaeil Gerami Moghadam said Ahmadinejad’s harsh comments were “the beginning of a new crackdown against his critics. He is resorting to threats to escape plausible criticism.”

Mohammad Ravanbakhsh, a reformist writer, said Ahmadinejad denounces anybody opposing his policies as being weak or being an agent of the enemy.

“Ahmadinejad assumes that anybody opposing his policies is either a compromiser giving in to the West or is a coward,” he said.

The United States and some of its allies accuse Iran of seeking to develop nuclear weapons, a claim denied by Iran, which says its nuclear program aims only to generate electricity. Iran has taken a tough stance, rejecting United Nation’s demands that it suspend uranium enrichment, a process that can produce either fuel for a reactor or a nuclear warhead.

On Monday, Ahmadinejad again insisted that there will be no halt or slowing down of Iran’s uranium enrichment.

“Today, bad-wishers … try to get a very small concession from this nation. In the latest talks, they raised the issue of declining the installation of centrifuges … we don’t accept this,” he said.

Brown warned Tehran that unless pending reports on its contested nuclear program show signs of progress, he will push the European Union and United Nations for tighter sanctions.

“Iran should be in no doubt about our seriousness of purpose,” Brown said in remarks prepared ahead of the annual Lord Mayor’s banquet.

Sarkozy said that Tehran must get “no nuclear weapon.”

“Germany and France think that, for sanctions to be efficient, there must be unity in the international community, including China and Russia, and that we must maintain the line of dialogue at the same time as firm sanctions,” he said.

Merkel said after the two countries’ cabinets held a twice-yearly meeting that Germany and France have “the common position that, if Iran does not change its stance, further sanctions must be considered in the U.N. framework,” she told reporters at the chancellery. “We want to have Russia and China in the world community that makes clear to Iran that we cannot resign ourselves to this nuclear program.”