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Rafsanjani: U.S. must do more

Former Iranian president the favorite in Friday's election

• Bombs kill 8 in Iran
United States
International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)
George W. Bush

TEHRAN, Iran (CNN) -- Former Iranian President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani -- now seeking another term as the Islamic republic's elected leader -- said Tuesday the United States has been hostile toward his country for more than 30 years.

Rafsanjani told CNN the United States has taken "steps in the right direction" but must do more to prove to Iranians that it has relinquished what he called "a hostile attitude."

Rafsanjani is considered the favorite to win Friday's presidential election, according to opinion polls. His chief rivals are top reformist candidate Mostafa Moin and hard-liner Mohammad Bagher Qalibaf. President Mohammad Khatami is ineligible to run. (Full story)

"The United States before the [Islamic Revolution of 1979], and even after the revolution, has shown hostility toward Iran," Rafsanjani said.

"Before the revolution you supported the regime of the shah that treated people very badly, and even after the revolution the United States has not been very good to us."

Iran and the European Union are in negotiations over Iran's nuclear program, which the republic says is for peaceful purposes only.

The United States, which has had no formal relations with Iran since the revolution -- during which militants held more than 50 Americans hostage for 444 days -- opposes allowing Iran access to enrich uranium for its program.

President Bush, who has said Iran must not be allowed to obtain nuclear weapons, wants to increase international pressure on the country to halt what the administration believes to be a secret nuclear weapons program.

The Bush administration has already offered two incentives to Iran for complying -- not blocking Iran's application to the World Trade Organization and allowing shipment of parts for Iran's aging commercial airliners.

"Yes, I consider these steps in the right direction," said Rafsanjani, who served two terms as Iran's president from 1989 to 1997.

"And we also heard another thing that President Bush has said that Iranians can have low-level uranium enrichment. If you look at these three things together, it seems the United States is choosing a new approach. But this is not enough. They need to do more.

"For example, they should unfreeze our assets in the United States," he said. "Those assets belong to us. If they do that, it is a good sign that the United States has relinquished hostility toward Iran."

Rafsanjani's comment about Bush was a surprise, since the administration has never wavered from its stance against uranium enrichment.

The former president said Iran has proposed to European negotiators that it "continue with enrichment on a limited scale that has no danger of us going in a military direction."

"We are going to give assurances that the enrichment will not be for military purposes," Rafsanjani said. "We have told them what we can do ... the plan we have proposed they will study, and it will be accepted by them or they will present a new proposal and then we will study the new proposal."

Rafsanjani acknowledged "some failure on our side" in reporting past nuclear activities, blaming the International Atomic Energy Agency for not providing adequate assistance but saying there was "no reason for us to conceal anything."

IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei said Monday that Iran is "inching forward" in providing proof its nuclear program is peaceful.

He noted, however, that Iran must go beyond meeting the letter of the law in convincing the international community it will not build nuclear weapons.

ElBaradei said a detailed report by IAEA inspectors deal with Iran is expected later in the week.

'A brutal judgment'

Regarding claims by the United States that Iran is a state sponsor of terrorism, Rafsanjani said it was Americans who created terrorists.

"If there is terrorism under the name of al Qaeda, the responsibility lies directly with the United States," he said.

"The United States can hardly charge us with supporting terrorists when the MKO, the Iranian terrorist outfit, is supported by the United States. This allegation of support for terrorism is really a brutal judgment."

MKO, or Mujahedin-E-Khalq, is a group originally formed to oppose the West-leaning Shah in the 1960s but later turned against Iran's Islamic leaders as well.

The group is on the U.S. State Department's list of terrorist organizations because of its use of bombings and assassinations to further its purposes.

The group has provided the United States with information about Iran's alleged nuclear weapons programs.

Rafsanjani appeared confident that he would Friday's election and said he would take care of the country's business in an orderly fashion.

"I am going for a policy of relaxation of tension, and this is a policy that I will apply to the United States as well," he said.

"And if Americans are sincere in the cooperation, working with Iran, I think the time is right to open a new chapter in our relations with the United States.

"But if the United States wants to continue its obstructions and hostility, then the previous past conditions will persist."

CNN's Christiane Amanpour contributed to this report.

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