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Cleric Says Iran Cannot Gloat Over Financial Crisis

Hashemi-Rafsanjani heads Iran's powerful Assembly of Experts.
TEHRAN (Reuters) -- Ex-President and influential cleric Ali Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani has said Iran should not gloat over the West in its financial crisis because one of the major consequences -- tumbling oil prices -- was also hurting the No. 2 OPEC producer.

Former President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani's comments at Friday prayers reflect mounting concern about prices that have more than halved since July. A central bank official said even before the latest slide that the drop rang an "alarm bell."

The world's fourth-largest oil producer and second biggest in the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) has become increasingly dependent on oil earnings since the 2005 election of President Mahmud Ahmadinejad, Hashemi-Rafsanjani's rival.

"We should not think the financial crisis that hit the world is in our interest and so on and express joy," Hashemi-Rafsanjani, who heads a powerful clerical body, said in comments on state radio.

"It should not be that some say the crisis is very good for us and it is a miracle coming from God to punish [the West]," said the cleric, who also said in September that Washington was paying for its past policy mistakes.

"The first negative consequence of the wave is the fall in oil prices," Hashemi-Rafsanjani said. "The drop in oil causes major damage to us. We have to be alert and cooperate with each other to contain the negative results of the next wave coming from this tsunami."

Benchmark U.S. crude initially slid on October 24 despite OPEC's pledge to reduce output by 1.5 million barrels per day -- a figure lower than the cut Iran called for before the cartel met in Vienna.

Some analysts say U.S. crude trading around $64, compared to $147 three months ago, is below what Iran needs to balance its books.

Hashemi-Rafsanjani, president in the 1990s, lost to Ahmadinejad in his comeback bid in 2005. He is not expected to run again in 2009 but is an influential figure in one of the opposing camps.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has said that to keep the current account in the black Iran needs more than $75 a barrel for its crude. Others say Tehran may need as much as $100.