Former Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has challenged his successor, Hassan Rouhani, to a debate intended to defend his eight-year record in office, reports the British Telegraph.
In his first political intervention since stepping down last August, the former president expressed outrage at a recent televised speech in which Rouhani took aim at Ahmadinejad’s stewardship of Iran's economy.
Rouhani said that his predecessor had presided over "unprecedented stagflation" in an address made to mark his own administration's first 100 days at the helm.
During Ahmadinejad’s presidency, Iran’s currency plummeted to an all-time low as the country faced a growing shortage of foreign cash because of international sanctions.
Writing to the new president directly, Ahmadinejad complained that the criticisms were "unfair and unsubstantiated". His decision to respond had been prompted by the demands of his supporters, he said
"While I intended to keep quiet for the sake of the country's expediency, out of respect for the numerous requests of different groups of people - including economic and political experts - I saw it necessary to invite you for a direct, fundamental and clarifying debate in a completely friendly environment," Ahmadinejad wrote, according to the Telegraph.
Rouhani made little effort to disguise his disdain for Ahmadinejad's performance in his November 26 appearance on state TV, two days after the signing of an interim agreement in Geneva on Iran's nuclear program.
He said his predecessor had governed in a period of unprecedented oil revenues yet still managed to leave Iran with billions in debt.
"These facts show the conditions we inherited from the previous government and in what conditions we must grapple with the problems," charged Rouhani.
The letter drew a withering response from Rouhani's office, where one official implied the former president was likely to deploy dishonest debating tactics.
"We welcome the debate but under one condition - that [Ahmadinejad] observe truth and honesty," Akbar Torkan, supreme adviser to the president, told the semi-official Mehr news agency.
"Hassan Rouhani and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad are not at the same level to debate, but we welcome the accountability of the head of [the previous] government," he added.
During his presidency Ahmadinejad came under public criticism, not only in the parliament but also from Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, over the country’s economic woes.
While he at first steadfastly denied that the sanctions were hurting the economy, he later admitted that Iran lost a substantial part of its oil revenues in 2012 due to sanctions imposed over its disputed nuclear program.
Rouhani has been praised by Iranians for his moderate approach to the West which enabled the deal in Geneva and will presumably significantly improve the economy.
On the day the deal was signed, the Iranian rial was showing signs of improvement. That same day, the Iranian nuclear negotiating team returned home to a hero's welcome.