Tehran, Asharq Al-Awsat—Iranian hardliners have increased their criticism of President Hassan Rouhani’s handling of nuclear negotiations the week before the latest round of talks between Iran and world powers.
Iranian news agencies said a number of Iranian MPs, activists and officials who opposed the course of the nuclear talks between Iran and the P5+1 (the permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany) held a conference in Tehran on Saturday criticizing the nuclear agreements recently signed by Iran and the world powers, saying that Rouhani had been too accommodating and had ignored Iranian national interests.
The participants of the conference—dubbed, “We are Concerned,” by those taking part and held at the former American embassy in Tehran—expressed views ranging from criticism of the Iranian government’s management of foreign affairs to outright dismissal of the efforts of Iran’s negotiators.
“The whole nation believes the main intention of the United States is to fully halt the Iranian nuclear program,” Fatemeh Alia, a leading member of the Islamic Revolution Resistance Front, told the IRNA news agency, accusing the Rouhani administration of failing to listen to its critics.
According to local press reports, the former head of the National Iranian Atomic Energy Organization, Fereydoon Abbasi-Davani, gave a speech during the conference in which he strongly criticized Iranian nuclear negotiators.
Abbasi-Davani contrasted the work of Rouhani’s team of negotiators with those of previous administrations, saying: “The former team of nuclear negotiators led by Hassan Jalili . . . played a heroic role in the nuclear negotiations.”
Abbasi-Davani also spoke out against efforts to find an agreement over the heavy water reactor under construction at Arak, which the West fears could be used to produce plutonium for a weapons program.
Iran maintains that its nuclear program, including uranium enrichment, is wholly for civilian purposes.
“The Arak heavy water reactor must continue to operate as usual, and there is no need for any changes there . . . the negotiators should not have given concessions on this issue, because our team gave too many concessions to the other side,” he said.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, speaking during a visit to Japan in March, said: “There is no intention to close the Arak reactor, and we have no intention to suspend its operations as this is a red line. We will, however, work on reassuring some parties about the prevention of the proliferation of nuclear weapons.”
Under an agreement with the UN’s nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Iran recently submitted plans for a redesign of the Arak reactor so that it will produce less plutonium, in a bid to allay Western fears in parallel talks with the P5+1.
In Iran, some analysts criticized the conference, saying it was designed to put pressure on the Rouhani administration for political purposes.
Political science lecturer at Tehran University, Sadegh Zibakalam, told Asharq Al-Awsat on Sunday: “The question here . . . is why these people worry about the course of the nuclear negotiations? Do they not know that there is coordination among all parts of the government about the nuclear issue? Do they not know that no one can do anything in this regard without prior coordination with all other parties? So, what is it that concerns them?”
“The policies of the government of [former president] Mahmoud Ahmadinejad are the reason for being where we are now, and that it is those policies which caused the country very heavy economic and political losses, so why were they not concerned then?” Zibakalam added.
Meanwhile, the head of the IAEA’s Iran Task Force, Massimo Aparo, travelled to Tehran on Sunday evening, where he is scheduled to chair a meeting of technical experts to discuss solutions for the issue of the Arak reactor.
Another round of talks between Iran and representatives of the P5+1 is also set to begin in Vienna on May 13, with a new set of confidence-building measures set to begin on May 15.