Iranian leaders distance themselves from president’s remarks on Israel

Iran’s influential former president says his country is not at war with arch-enemy Israel, in the latest departure by a high-profile politician from the strident line traditionally taken by many leaders in Tehran.

Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani’s remarks follow calls from figures across the political spectrum to repair the damage to Iran’s international reputation they said had been caused by outgoing president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who called Israel a doomed state and questioned the extent of the Holocaust.

Several of them, including Mr Rafsanjani, are considered possible contenders in June elections to replace Mr Ahmadinejad.

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“We are not at war with Israel,” the ex-president said, adding that Iran would not start a war, but “if Arab nations wage a war, then we would help”.

Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf – a Tehran mayor and conservative who is considered a potential candidate in the presidential election – also criticised Mr Ahmadinejad, saying his statements had damaged Iran.