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Hard-line critics in Iran stoke tensions, hospitalizing foreign minister

| Wednesday, Oct. 9, 2013, 7:18 p.m.

TEHRAN — Iran's foreign minister fired back against hard-line critics of Tehran's groundbreaking outreach to the United States, accusing opponents on Wednesday of using fabricated news leaks and other tactics to undermine the effort — and even checking himself into the hospital because of the stress it caused.

Mohammad Javad Zarif said the political battles had become so tense that it brought on back pain and spasms. He wrote on his Facebook page that he canceled appointments and went to a hospital for a check-up late Tuesday.

The source of his distress: an article in a hard-line newspaper that Zarif said misquoted him on the subject of the new Iranian administration's outreach to the United States.

The image of the U.S.-educated 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 Obama's phone conversation with his Iranian counterpart, Hassan Rouhani. The call angered hard-liners.

In another sign of the Rouhani camp's moves to steer a more moderate course, government spokesman Mohammad Bagher Nobakht was quoted by the semiofficial Fars news agency as saying that authorities are considering freeing two opposition leaders who have been under house arrest since early 2011.

The two figures, Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mahdi Karroubi, ran in 2009 presidential elections, challenging Rouhani's predecessor, Mahmoud Ahmedinejad. They then led giant protests over Ahmadinejad's disputed win in that election.

Since last month, officials have freed more than 90 people jailed in the crackdowns on those protests.

No timetable was given for the review, but even the consideration of releasing the two suggests further moves at political reconciliation that could meet resistance from conservatives.

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