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Critics put Iran envoy in hospital

Iran's foreign minister has said dealing with the strain of criticism over the country's new, softer approach to the US has put him in hospital.

Mohammad Javad Zarif said the political battles had become so tense that it brought on back pain and spasms and he cancelled appointments to go to hospital for a check-up.

The main source of his distress was an article in a hard-line newspaper that he said misquoted him on the subject of the new Iranian administration's outreach.

The image of the US-educated Mr Zarif forced to seek medical attention because of stress underscored the high-level tensions inside Iran's leadership after the historic exchanges last month at the United Nations, including president Barrack Obama's phone conversation with his Iranian counterpart, Hassan Rouhani.

Iranian hard-liners, including commanders in the powerful Revolutionary Guard, have said Mr Rouhani went too far in reaching out to Washington. The Guard chief commander, General Mohammad Ali Jafar called the phone call a "tactical mistake."

Mr Zarif claimed the hard-line newspaper Kayhan misquoted him - publishing what was allegedly a confidential exchange - as criticising some aspects of Mr Rouhani's policies, calling it a "bitter day."

He vowed not to hold any further confidential assessments and said all his remarks would be for public scrutiny.

But Mr Rouhani's overtures to the US still appear to have solid backing from Iran's top decision-maker, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. As long as he keeps his support, the backlash from critics cannot seriously reverse the policies.

Mr Rouhani's short-term goal is seeking to ease Western sanctions as part of negotiations over Iran's nuclear programme. Talks with the US and other world powers are scheduled to resume in Geneva next week, but Iran has not yet given details on what new proposals it would bring.

The West and its allies fear Iran's ability to make nuclear fuel will eventually lead to weapons-grade material. Iran repeatedly denies it seeks nuclear weapons and says its atomic program is only for energy and medical applications.

-AP

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