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Influential Iranian Cleric Asks US for 'Wise' Policies

An influential Iranian cleric is urging U.S. President-elect Barack Obama to be reasonable and wise in dealing with Tehran on nuclear issues.

Former President Ayatollah Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani said Tuesday Iran does not want a confrontation with the United States. He said his country only wants to be an independent Muslim nation relying on its own resources, which he said is within its rights.

Mr. Rafsanjani said Mr. Obama's stance mimics that of outgoing U.S. President George Bush.

He referred to the president-elect's recent comments about offering both rewards and punishments to Tehran based on its disputed nuclear program. The Iranian cleric said Tehran neither needs the incentives nor fears retaliation.

Mr. Rafsanjani was speaking in a sermon to mark the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha - or "Festival of Sacrifice."

President-elect Obama said in an interview Sunday on NBC's Meet the Press he is prepared to offer Iran economic incentives to stop its nuclear program. But Mr. Obama warned that the international community could tighten sanctions on Iran if it refuses.

The president-elect said the U.S. and its allies are willing to talk to Iran's government directly and give it a clear choice on the issue.

The United States accuses Iran of trying to build nuclear weapons. Iran insists its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes.

Iranain politicians have given a mixed response to Mr. Obama's election. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad wrote a letter of congratulations - the first time since the Iranian revolution that an Iranian leader has done so. But other leaders have said Mr. Obama represents a continuation of previous U.S. policy.

Separately Tuesday, Russian media report Russian officials believe Iran does not currently have the capability to build a nuclear weapon.

The reports quote the director of the Russian Foreign Ministry's department of European cooperation as saying Iran cannot create or deliver a nuclear weapon.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP.