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Iranian Ex-President Tells Obama Not To Repeat Bush's Warnings

Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani said Iran will protect its nuclear "rights."
TEHRAN (Reuters) -- An influential Iranian cleric and politician has criticized the new U.S. administration for signaling that it reserved all its options, ranging from diplomacy to military action, to pressure Iran over its nuclear program.

But Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, a former president, also held out the prospect that if U.S. President Barack Obama changed Washington's approach toward Iran's disputed nuclear plans the Islamic republic would cooperate with it in the Middle East.

Obama's administration has said he would break from his predecessor by pursuing direct talks with Tehran but has also warned Iran to expect more pressure if it did not meet the UN Security Council demand to halt uranium enrichment.

Iran has repeatedly refused to halt nuclear activities that the West suspects are aimed at making bombs, but which Tehran says are to generate electricity so that it can export more oil.

"We have this expectation that you [the United States] take a fair and wise step so that Iran's [nuclear] rights would not be violated," Rafsanjani told worshippers at Friday Prayers.

If that happens, the United States "would be able to help the people of this region with the companionship and cooperation of Iran so that we solve the region's problems," he said in the sermon at Tehran University broadcast live on state radio.

"If you don't, history will make the same judgment about you as it did about Mr. Bush," said Rafsanjani, a pragmatic conservative who lost the 2005 presidential election to Mahmud Ahmadinejad and who now heads a powerful arbitration body, the Assembly of Experts.

George W. Bush always insisted that all options, including military action, remained open in dealing with Iran, though he said he was seeking a diplomatic solution.

Iran says it is prepared to defend the country if attacked.

Obama's spokesman Robert Gibbs said on January 29 that the United States "must use all elements of our national power to protect our interests as it relates to Iran."

Rafsanjani said that repeating Bush's statements would not solve anything in relations between the two countries, which have not had diplomatic ties for three decades.

"When you say that all options, even military, are on the table, when you say that Iran should suspend its nuclear program if it wants to end its isolation...when you make threats and give unclear and impractical promises, this can't be," Rafsanjani said.

"You should make a clear stance. We still have this expectation because of the expectations that you yourself created in your election campaign," he said.