LONDON: Hassan Rouhani, the president of Iran, is to sue his country’s state broadcaster after he was accused of opium use on national television.
On Friday, the president’s office of legal affairs said Rouhani would pursue damages for defamation after Ahmed Jahan Bozorgi, a cleric and member of an Islamic think tank, said Rouhani could often not be reached by members of the Iranian Cabinet because he was at home smoking the drug.
Alireza Moezi, on behalf of Rouhani’s office, said: “What was broadcast last night was sadly just shameless insult, slander and foul language against the president.”
The Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting Corporation, which is controlled by the country’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and Bozorgi’s institute, which frequently advises the Iranian government, both subsequently distanced themselves from the comments.
The incident, though, is seen by many as an attempt to undermine Rouhani, a relative moderate in Iranian politics, and his allies by conservative hardliners ahead of the country’s presidential elections later this year.
Rouhani, who will stand down having served two terms, has presided over a period of increasing tensions with the US during the sole term of President Donald Trump, a period in which the hardliners have made significant political gains, whilst failing to oust the president himself.
On Wednesday, Rouhani, Foreign Minister Javad Zarif and Communications Minister Mohammad Azari Jahromi were summoned to Parliament to face questions over their relationship with recently-installed US President Joe Biden.
Rouhani said he hoped that US sanctions on Iran would soon be lifted, amid hopes that a change of president in the US could see a return to the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or “Iran Nuclear Deal,” that was sidelined by the US under Trump.
Such a sequence of events, it is thought, would give Rouhani and his allies a significant political win in the build up to the June elections. The move is opposed by the hardliners, though, who favor a stronger stance on the US.
“We do not need the nuclear deal anymore. Our strength comes from the fact that we have kept our existence without it,” said Hossein Salami, commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.
One radical member of parliament, meanwhile, said Iran should look to “impeach” Rouhani, following the example of Democrat senators in the US towards Trump, amid claims the trio were “friends” of the new administration in Washington.