TEHRAN, Iran, (AP) – A top conservative cleric close to Iran’s supreme leader criticized the economic policies of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, saying they threaten to keep Iran from its goal of becoming a regional superpower by 2025.
The remarks by Ali Akbar Nateq Nouri, published Sunday, came just a week after supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei strongly backed Ahmadinejad, praising him for “standing up” to the West and urging him to plan for a second four-year term.
But Nateq Nouri, a confidant of Khamenei, said the strong support didn’t mean the president was immune from criticism. And, according to his comments at a banking conference, Iran’s economy is faltering.
Ahmadinejad was elected in 2005 on a populist agenda promising to bring oil revenues to every family, eradicate poverty and tackle unemployment. In recent months, he has faced increasingly fierce criticism for his failure to meet those promises.
He is being challenged not only by reformers but by the same conservatives who paved the way for his stunning victory in 2005 presidential elections. Even conservatives say Ahmadinejad has concentrated too much on fiery, anti-U.S. speeches and not enough on the economy — and they have become more aggressive in calling him to account.
Three years ago, Iran embarked on a 20-year plan to become a regional superpower and a leader in technological and economic know-how. In particular, the plan is focused on development in nuclear technology, industry and education.
“Goals of the 20-year plan won’t materialize under the present policies unless executive officials really change (their) views,” newspapers quoted Nateq Nouri as saying in a banking conference in Tehran.
Under the Iranian constitution, the government is required to move toward privatization but Nateq Nouri said institutions affiliated with the government, not the private sector, were being awarded shares in the “privatized” firms.
“We see that assets are transferred from an open to a shadow government,” he said.
Earlier this month, the still-powerful former president, Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, blamed Ahmadinejad for gas shortages in winter and power cuts during summer.
Dozens of people froze to death last winter in Iran because of natural gas cuts that left them without heat. Summertime electricity blackouts also spoiled food, hurt businesses and disrupted air conditioning at a time when temperatures reach an average of 113 degrees during the day.
Nateq Nouri also said the government plan of injecting liquidity into the society in the hope of creating jobs has backfired.
“Injecting liquidity won’t create jobs,” he said.