Breaking with official Tehran, former Iranian president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani appeared to accuse the Syrian regime of using chemical weapons on its own people Sunday, though the comment was later pulled.
“The people have been the target of chemical attacks by their own government and now they must also wait for an attack by foreigners,” Rafsanjani said, according to a report from Reuters that cited the semi-official Iranian Labour News Agency.
However, according to a report from the Daily Star Lebanon, the ILNA quickly issued a new version of the same report that no longer attributed attacks to the Syrian government.
“On the one hand the people of Syria are the target of a chemical attack, and now they must wait for an attack by foreigners,” read the later report.
Rafsanjani is a leading reformist seen as a relative moderate. Earlier in the year he registered to run for the country’s presidency, but was disqualified by the clerical regime.
In July this year the former president called for a change in Iranian foreign policy and criticized outgoing president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
Iran has been one of Syria’s most stringent backers, and has threatened to hit Israeli or US interests in response to a US-led attack on Syria. Tehran has maintained that the Damascus attack was carried out by rebel forces and not the government.
It was not clear from the report if Rafsanjani’s comments were referring to the gas attack near Damascus at the end of last month that reportedly killed over 1,300 people, or earlier incidents in which both the Syrian regime and opposition forces blamed each other for the use of chemical weapons.
“The people of Syria have seen much damage in these two years,” Rafsanjani said.
The US, Britain, and France have accused Syrian President Bashar Assad’s government of being behind the Damascus attack and US President Barack Obama said on Saturday that he would seek congressional authorization for a limited military strike on Syria as a response to the incident.