TEHRAN (Reuters) – A group of hardline lawmakers plans to complain to the Intelligence Ministry about comments by moderate former President Mohammad Khatami deemed insulting to Iran’s revolutionary leader, a newspaper reported on Wednesday.
The daily Etemad-e Melli said 77 lawmakers would ask Intelligence Minister Gholamhossein Mohseni-Ejei “to confront” Khatami for the remarks they say insulted the late founder of the Islamic Republic, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.
The newspaper did not say when the formal complaint would be lodged and did not give further details.
The row reflects a political divide between those in Iran, like President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, seeking a return to hardline policies of the early revolutionary days and pro-reform figures, like Khatami, who seek political and social change.
In a speech on Friday, Khatami questioned the meaning of “exporting the revolution,” a phrase coined when Khomeini led the country as supreme leader. Khomeini, who died in 1989, remains a figure much revered by all political factions.
Nearby Gulf Arab states and others took fright at the phrase at the time, seeing it as a bid by Iran to stoke revolt in their countries. Khatami’s presidency was characterized by a bid to improve Iran’s relations with Arabs and the West.
“What did Imam Khomeini mean by exporting the revolution?” Khatami asked in his speech in the northern province of Gilan, newspapers reported.
“Did Imam Khomeini mean that we take up arms, that we blow up places in other nations and we create groups to carry out sabotage in other countries? He was vehemently against such measures and was confronting it,” Khatami said.
Those remarks have been taken by hardliners to suggest Khatami was giving credence to charges often leveled by the United States and other Western countries that Iran is fuelling unrest in Iraq and elsewhere. Tehran denies such accusations.
“Obviously Khatami should be held responsible for his anti-patriotic comments,” Kayhan newspaper, a flag-bearer for hardliners, said in a commentary.
“It’s consequence has been to tarnish the shining reputation of the system and confirm the baseless accusations of the arrogant powers,” it said, employing a term Iranian officials use to refer to the United States and its allies.
Khatami was the figurehead for reformists in the March parliamentary election when the faction maintained their small minority. He is expected to play a major role in reformists’ efforts to recapture the presidency in the 2009 race.
Ahmadinejad is widely expected to seek a second term. But conservatives who won the parliamentary polls include many opposed to Ahmadinejad and in particular his economic policies, so he may face a rougher ride from parliament in the year ahead.