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Iran cleric praises Ahmadinejad for US letter

Written by: Staff
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TEHRAN, May 12 (Reuters) A leading conservative cleric today praised President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for sending a letter to US President George W. Bush that was harshly critical of Washington's policies.

In the first publicly announced letter from an Iranian president to his US counterpart since the two countries broke ties in 1980, Ahmadinejad questioned Bush's commitment to Christian values and criticised American foreign policy.

''No one in the world dares to write such a letter to the US president which has no token of us being humiliated,'' Ahmad Jannati, head of the Guardian Council, an unelected watchdog made up of Islamic clerics, said.

''It was an extraordinary letter and I believe it was an inspiration by God.'' Iran analysts said Ahmadinejad's letter was a veiled offer to open talks with Washington, but they also said he chose a tough tone not to alienate conservatives who are opposed to talks with Iran's arch-foe, Washington.

''We should really appreciate and thank this man who is the fame of this country and Islam,'' Jannati told worshippers at Friday prayers at Tehran University in comments broadcast live on radio.

Ahmadinejad's 18-page letter, which did not offer concrete proposals on its nuclear dispute with the West, was dismissed by Washington as a ploy to divert attention from Tehran's nuclear plans.

Jannati said Ahmadinejad had put Washington in a difficult situation by writing the unprecedented letter.

''Whether they reply to it or not, it is to their harm,'' Jannati said. ''If they answer it, what they have got to say. If not, it proves their weak and passive situation.'' Ahmadinejad yesterday said that Iran was ready to hold dialogue with anybody, but Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns said that Washington would not talk directly with Tehran, but it would adopt a tough line on Iran's nuclear program.

The United States is pressing the UN Security Council to take stronger measures against Tehran over its nuclear program which the West suspects is a cover for developing weapons. Iran says it is for peaceful power generation.

Because of Russian and Chinese opposition, Washington and key European allies have so far failed to secure a UN Security Council resolution that would legally oblige Iran to halt all uranium enrichment work or face possible sanctions.

REUTERS PR RN1811

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