Iranian Culture Minister Ataollah Mohajerani, one of the main betes noires of the conservatives, Sunday roundly denied press reports earlier in the day that he had had a secret lunch with a number of western diplomats.
The press claims prompted a flurry of denunciations from conservatives, who questioned why he and other prominent reformists and moderates had met diplomats without informing the authorities.
"I had lunch with some longtime friends. It was a private affair that had no political overtones, and was attended by the ambassadors of Syria, Lebanon, Tunisia, Oman and the representative of Egyptian interests," Mohajerani told the Iranian daily Ettelaat.
"The lunch's host was Ibrahim Hossein Jani, one of the biggest carpet dealers and who also has a great knowledge of the Koran," said Mohajerani, who is close to President Mohammad Khatami.
"Neither the ambassador of France, nor of Germany, nor of Great Britain were there," he said.
A western diplomat in Tehran also denied there had been any secret meeting with European ambassadors.
The Tehran Times claimed Sunday that Mohajerani and former Tehran mayor Gholamhossein Karbaschi were among those attending a dinner with several western ambassadors at a villa in an upper class Tehran suburb.
Mohajerani called the English-language newspaper "an organ of the conservative Islamic propaganda organization."
The conservatives "shoot arrows into the air that just fall back down on themselves," he said.
The report in the Tehran Times prompted the conservative Islamic Bazaar Association to send a letter to Khatami asking him to confirm that the meeting had taken place, and explain why Mohajerani and Karbaschi had taken part.
"It is said that the question of the presidential election (due in 2001) was raised and some ambassadors expressed support for Mr. Mohajerani's candidacy," said the letter, a copy of which was published in the conservative Ressalat newspaper Sunday.
Conservative MP Mohammed-Reza Moaemi also wrote to Khatami, asking him to "elucidate" the affair – TEHRAN (AFP)
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