Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, gave a stark warning yesterday that his country's next president should not make concessions to the West, insisting this would not ease tensions over Tehran's controversial nuclear programme.
Most of the eight candidates approved to contest the June 14 election to pick a successor to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad have said they would focus on improving the Islamic republic's relations with other countries.
They have touted their ability to mend ties with the international community - without compromising Tehran's right to a peaceful nuclear programme.
The candidates know that better ties with the United States, in particular, would be popular with Iran's younger citizens, who are keen for their country to come in from the international cold.
But Ayatollah Khamenei, a dour septuagenarian, insisted that attempts to appease the West would be a "mistake".
"Some [candidates] have the wrong analysis that by giving concessions to the enemies, their anger towards Iran will be reduced," the ayatollah said. Washington has marshalled unprecedented international sanctions against Iran, targeting its vital oil and banking sectors.
Candidates hoping to reduce western anger "have put their interests before the interests of the Iranian nation", Ayatollah Khamenei said in a televised address marking the anniversary of the death in 1989 of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the founder of the Islamic republic.
The comments by Ayatollah Khamenei, who has the final say on all state matters, are a red line to candidates indicating how far they can go. They are also a reminder that the ruling imams, rather than the elected president, determine all major policies.
Ali Akbar Velayati, a veteran adviser to Ayatollah Khamenei on foreign affairs, who is now running for president, said on Friday that Iran needed "reconciliation with the world" to solve problems including high unemployment and inflation.
Another candidate, Hassan Rowhani, a centrist, has also signalled that he would reduce rifts between Iran and the West over Tehran's disputed nuclear programme that the West fears has a military dimension, a charge Iran denies.
But Ayatollah Khamenei countered that the "anger of enemies" stems from the Islamic republic's very existence. He agreed the economy was Iran's main problem, but argued that this could be addressed by reducing consumption and better management.
Then, he declared, "the enemy will be defenceless in its confrontation with the Iranian nation".