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Iranian Security Chief Rejects US Criticism of Parliamentary Disqualifications - 2004-01-15

The head of Iranian security has rejected U.S. criticism of the recent disqualification of more than 3,000 parliamentary candidates in Iran, most of them reformists. Hassan Rohani is visiting Paris, where the French foreign minister said France is watching the Iranian election process carefully.

Mr. Rohani, who is head of Iran's Supreme National Security Council, told reporters in Paris that Washington's remarks about Iran's disqualified candidates amounted to self-interested meddling. On Monday, the Bush administration said the Iranian government should reject efforts by the hard-line Guardian Council to shape the country's February elections.

But Mr. Rohani also said the electoral problems can be solved easily, referring to the order Wednesday by Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei telling the Guardian Council to reconsider its decision.

Iran's security chief spoke during a joint news conference with French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin. The French minister did not directly refer to the disqualification of about half of Iran's legislative candidates. Instead, he said France is following the election process with, as he put it, great attention and interest.

Mr. de Villepin also called for Tehran to pardon political prisoners before next month's elections. While describing France as a friend, Mr. Rohani said prisoners are sentenced according to Iranian law and other countries must respect this.

On Wednesday, Mr. Rohani meet with French President Jacques Chirac, as part of what is being described as a working visit to discuss nuclear and international issues.

The visit highlights differences in diplomatic approaches taken by the United States and Europe toward Iran. Washington broke ties with Iran following the 1979 revolution, but the European Union follows a policy of known as "critical engagement" with Iran.

Last year, European countries, including France, urged Iran to cooperate with U.N. inspectors and to suspend its uranium enrichment activities. Iranian officials and weapons inspectors are still at odds, however, over whether Iran is actually doing so.