( AP ) - President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad threatened Wednesday that his government would expose details of conversations between a former Iranian nuclear negotiator whom the president had labeled a spy and foreigners he was accused of colluding with.
But an increasing number of conservatives stepped forward to defend negotiator Hossein Mousavian, in a sign the issue was further eroding hard-line Ahmadinejad's support.
The president's threat came in response to Mousavian's acquittal Tuesday in a case that has become a centerpiece in the feud between Ahmadinejad and his more liberal political rivals.
"I insist that the content of remarks conveyed by him (Mousavian) be published, so that the people know about it," the official IRNA news agency quoted Ahmadinejad as saying after a Cabinet meeting Wednesday.
Mousavian is a close ally of former President Hashemi Rafsanjani, a powerful figure in Iran's clerical leadership who is seen as a pragmatist. Allies of Rafsanjani have been increasingly public in their criticism of Ahmadinejad, accusing him of mismanaging the nuclear standoff with the West and of lashing out against his rivals.
According to the semi-official Mehr news agency, Ali Akbar Nateq Nouri, a top advisor to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said the espionage charges against Mousavian were "not true" - a clear slap to Ahmadinejad.
Mousavian was accused by the Intelligence Ministry of passing classified information to foreigners, including the British Embassy, and was charged with "spying, keeping confidential documents and propagating against the ruling system."
He was found not guilty of the first two charges and guilty of the third charge, and the court also suspended a sentence against him. However, a sentence can't be ruled out if the prosecution objects to the court decision.
Intelligence Minister Gholam Hossein Mohseni Ejehi said the secret service will object to the verdict and will call for a new probe into the case, IRNA said.
The secret service allegedly has recorded conversations between Mousavian and unnamed foreigners.
"Mr. Mousavian had 10-15 meetings with foreigners and said things. If the content of the conversations and the exchange of information is published, the issue will be clear," Ahmadinejad said.
But Ejehi said publication of Mousavian's conversations needs court approval.
But there was more dissent against the president Wednesday in comments backing Mousavian.
Conservative parliamentary speaker Gholam Ali Haddad Adel said one should be happy with Mousavian's acquittal, since only a court was competent to rule on such charges.
Mahmoud Mohammadi, a conservative lawmaker, said Mousavian must be praised for his persistent "bitter silence" in the face of high-profile accusations and for his "faith in the ruling system" and a court's fair verdict, according to Mehr.
Mohammadi, alluding to Ahmadinehad, said it was "deploring to see some individuals unhappy" over Mousavian's acquittal.