Iran's moderates challenge president's atomic tactics

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TEHRAN, Oct 26 (Reuters) Iran's biggest reformist party openly challenged President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's hardline nuclear policy today, a day after Washington imposed new sanctions on the Islamic republic over its disputed atomic work.

The Islamic Iran Participation Front also warned of an escalating crisis with the international community, calling for a review of Tehran's nuclear policy.

''The government should refrain from its adventurous policies,'' Mohsen Mirdamadi, the party's secretary-general, told an audience of 200 people during a meeting of the party.

The United States yesterday dubbed Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps a proliferater of weapons of mass destruction and accused its Qods force of backing terrorists. Washington also imposed sanctions on more than 20 Iranian companies, major banks and individuals.

Mirdamadi criticised President Ahmadinejad's anti-Western rhetoric, saying that Tehran had become increasingly isolated since he took office in 2005.

''Are we allowed to impose hardship of (UN) sanctions and other harsh measures on our nation as a result of our illogical and unreal self-glorification?,'' Mirdamadi told the audience, which included reformist former president Mohammad Khatami.

''Are we allowed to display a brutal and adventurous image of the Iranian nation by our misbehaviour and through making inappropriate speeches?'' Criticising the handling of Iran's nuclear policy is unusual and sensitive because it is considered a matter of national security. Reformists believe Iran should return to suspending enrichment, the policy under former President Mohammad Khatami.

Despite international pressure over Iran to suspend its nuclear programme, which the West says is a cover to build an atomic bomb, Ahmadinejad has remained defiant, calling two sets of UN sanction resolutions ''a piece of torn paper''.

''WRONG TACTICS'' ''Ahmadinejad has adopted wrong tactics, which is pushing the country towards serious confrontation with the world,'' Mirdamadi told Reuters on the sidelines of the meeting.

Although Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has the last say on all state matters, including the nuclear issue, many blamed Ahmadinejad's government for the current standoff.

''...Of course the government's view is considered by the leader,'' Mirdamadi said. ''Under moderate Khatami Iran adopted different tactics.'' A senior member of the party said Ahmadinejad's government was unable to handle the nuclear dossier correctly.

''As a result of Ahmadinejad's wrong policies, Iran's military force was tagged as terrorist. It is a step toward military confrontation,'' said the member, who asked not to be named.

''Iran should accept temporary suspension to avoid more harm that could not be compensated,'' he added.

The Revolutionary Guard Corps has about 125,000 members and is the most important wing of Iran's military. It also has financial concerns and US officials say it uses the companies that were put under sanctions to buy nuclear technology. Tehran dismisses the charge.

Iranian officials have repeatedly voiced confidence that Washington was not in a position to take military action against Iran, particularly while it is still fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan.

But cleric Mohammad Ali Abtahi, a close ally to former president Khatami, said Ahmadinejad's policies were pushing Iran towards war.

''It is a very sensitive time ... Military action (against Iran) is not far from reality,'' Abtahi told Reuters.

REUTERS GT RK2320

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