TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — A former commander of Iran's Revolutionary Guard hoping to become the country's next president said Tuesday that nuclear talks with world powers are "fruitless" because of the tightening Western sanctions against Tehran.
The candidate, Mohsen Rezaei, said that if elected, he would seek to change the course of the current dialogue between Iran and the six powers. The talks have become deadlocked following last month's round in Almaty, Kazakhstan.
Iran's nuclear program has become a central issue in the June 14 election to pick a successor for President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. All eight hopefuls — which include Razaei and also Iran's top nuclear negotiator — back Tehran's controversial nuclear program but differ on strategies for talks with the five permanent U.N. Security Council members plus Germany.
The West and its allies fear Iran is moving toward development of a nuclear weapon. Iran denies any interest in nuclear arms but after the latest stalemate, no date has been announced for any new talks with the six powers.
In his remarks Tuesday, Rezaei blamed the United States for the failure of the talks so far, saying Washington has pursued a policy of tightening sanctions against Tehran in order to bring about concessions at the negotiating table.
"I will liberate the nuclear talks from this fruitless status," said Rezaei. "It's buying time for the U.S. to see more effects of the sanctions."
Rezaei, 58, ran for president in 2009, but finished fourth.
Speaking to reporters in Tehran's old bazaar, Rezaei said he would seek to strengthen Iran's economy to defuse Western sanctions while launching a new diplomatic push over the nuclear file. He said he would also broaden the talks with the U.S. to include issues such as environmental problems in the Persian Gulf and Afghan drug trafficking.
The former Guard commander declined to give further details, saying he would reveal more after becoming president.
Although Iran's president does not set the country's major policies, which fall under the ruling clerics headed by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the president acts as the nation's main emissary and can have some influence over the controversial nuclear issue.
International sanctions, led by the U.S. and European Union, have sharply increased in recent years, targeting Iran's vital oil exports and limiting its access to global financial networks. The sanctions, compounded with domestic fiscal mismanagement, have locked Iran in a downward economic spiral, with unemployment at nearly 14 percent and a 32 percent inflation rate.
"We will uproot inflation and unemployment," Razaei pledged as he visited the bazaar, apparently in an effort to reach a wider audience and underscore the "importance of the economy."
But some of the merchants were not convinced.
Jaber Salimi, who sells shoes, said he hasn't decided who to vote for because there is no indication the economy would pick up.
"I have no idea if any of the candidates will be able to achieve this," Salimi said.
Aziz Heidari said he had a shoe workshop with 300 workers seven years ago. "But the government did not support our industry, so now I distribute Chinese products," he said.