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Video Shows Iran's Ex-President Criticizing Damascus Over Chemical Attack

  • RFE/RL's Radio Farda

Former Iranian President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani (left) chats with current President Hassan Rohani during a session of the Assembly of Experts in Tehran on September 3.

Former Iranian President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani (left) chats with current President Hassan Rohani during a session of the Assembly of Experts in Tehran on September 3.

A video has surfaced that shows former Iranian President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani clearly blaming Damascus for chemical attacks, despite the Iranian government's claim that the media had wrongly reported his remarks.

The video, posted on the website Bolaghnews.com, shows Rafsanjani speaking last weekend in Savad Kooh in Mazandaran Province.

He says, "People are being subjected to chemical attacks by their own government and also have to wait for American bombs to fall."

Rafsanjani's remarks were first quoted verbatim by the semiofficial Iranian Labor News Agency on September 1.

The news agency later amended its report to remove Rafsanjani blaming Damascus.

Iran's Foreign Ministry claimed on September 2 that the original quote had been "distorted."

Tehran officially maintains that rebels were responsible for the reported poison-gas attacks on the outskirts of Damascus on August 21.

Iran is Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s strongest ally and supplies his regime with funds and weapons, including missiles.

WATCH: Rafsanjani's speech, with RFE/RL's translation.

Rafsanjani is often described as a pragmatic conservative who favors a moderate position internationally that seeks to avoid conflict with the West.

He declared his candidacy for Iran's June presidential election, reviving hopes among the country's reformers for a change in the country's hard-line-dominated foreign policy.

However, his candidacy angered hard-liners, who believed it would challenge their authority. He was disqualified from the presidential race in May by the Guardians Council.

In his speech over the weekend, Rafsanjani not only spoke about Syria but also about the impasse that sanctions-hit Iran has reached in its confrontation with the West over its nuclear program.

"The current difficulties we face are real difficulties. We are under sanctions and besieged," he said.

"We cannot utilize our natural resources. We cannot sell our oil. Even when we sell the oil, we cannot repatriate the money. When we buy goods, we have to pay extra and then also pay more for transportation. And many more problems."

The remarks offer a challenge to Iran’s official position that the country is not suffering under sanctions.

Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei maintains that the country's economic problems are due not to Western pressure but to inefficiencies and administrative shortcomings.

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