TEHRAN: Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei condemned on Wednesday the Jan 2 attack by protesters on Saudi Arabia’s embassy in Tehran as “a very bad and wrong incident”.

“Like the British embassy attack before it, this was against the country (Iran) and Islam, and I didn’t like it,” he added. Britain’s embassy was ransacked by a mob in 2011.

The arson attack on Saudi Arabia’s embassy -- for which local media reports say as many as 140 people have been arrested -- led to Riyadh quickly severing diplomatic ties with Tehran.

Ayatollah Khamenei’s remarks in a speech to electoral officials ahead of the country’s parliamentary polls scheduled for Feb 26 underscored that the embassy attack had no sympathy from within its establishment.

President Hassan Rouhani had said that the violence had been committed by “rogue elements” acting against the country’s interests.

Iranian authorities have said that those detained include the assault’s ringleader.

Mr Khamenei also spoke about the brief detention by Iran’s Revolutionary Guards’ naval force of 10 US Navy personnel who strayed into Iranian waters in the Gulf.

“This move by our dear youth... against the enemies’ aggression in our waters, they showed power,” he said.

“I didn’t have an opportunity to thank them. I really thank them. It was a very appropriate action,” he added.

The arrests of the American sailors on Jan 13 came days before Iran was due to implement its nuclear deal with world powers, including the United States.

US and Iranian officials scrambled to defuse the situation, which had raised alarm in Washington, but after informal talks, the Iranian force said the 10 sailors had been set free.

Ayatollah Khamenei also said that those opposed to the values of Iran’s theocracy should not be allowed to run for parliament, signalling a rift between him and the moderate president over the elections.

Almost 12,000 candidates registered for the elections, but Iranian media reports indicate a vetting council made up of clerics and jurists has disqualified the majority of those close to the president and reformists.

“I will use all my power to protect the rights of candidates,” the president said on Monday, referring to recent comments by Mr Khamenei inviting all Iranians to cast their vote.

“I said that even those who oppose the Islamic Republic should take part in the election,” Mr Khamenei said.

“(But) this does not mean that opponents of the Islamic Republic should be elected to parliament... Only those who believe in the Islamic Republic and its values should be allowed to enter parliament.

“Even in America, which claims it is the land of freedom and some people naively accept that, during the Cold War those with slightest socialist leaning would have been marginalised.”

Ahmad Jannati, the head of the Guardian Council, assured Mr Khamenei that its consideration of candidates’ qualifications would be done “carefully and will not be affected by any pressure”.

Published in Dawn, January 21st, 2016