London, Asharq Al-Awsat—A senior Iranian conservative warned on Sunday that political extremism was damaging Iran’s national interests, amid growing pressure from hardliners on Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and the country’s nuclear negotiating team.
Ali Akbar Nategh-Nuri, a former parliamentary speaker, government minister, and current member of Iran’s influential Expediency Council, said during a memorial service for a revolutionary activist in Tehran that “extremism” and not following the path of moderation were harming the country and the Islamic Revolution.
Observers say Nategh-Nuri’s remarks may have been an attempt to build bridges between pragmatists among Iran’s political conservatives and members of the reformist movement.
Azar Mansouri, the deputy head of the Islamic Iran Participation Front, told Asharq Al-Awsat that Nategh-Nuri’s statements were in line with other comments he made following Iran’s disputed presidential elections in 2009.
“I think Nategh-Nuri is trying to revive Iran’s “right” faction, and to stress that conservatives are not supposed to have an extremist role in the country’s politics,” he said.
He added: “Based on pragmatism, national unity is a must in Iran, and that’s why Nategh-Nuri is trying to stop all political trends from being extremist.”
In addition, the secretary general of the Executives of Construction Party, Gholamhossein Karbaschi, said in October 2013 that reformist parties and groups may agree to nominate Ali Akbar Nategh-Nuri as their lead candidate for the next parliamentary election in 2016.
“Reformist parties will adopt rational and more active political approaches for [parliamentary] elections, and in view of Nategh-Nuri’s record,” reformists may gather around him as the lead candidate, Karbaschi told the Mehr News Agency.
Karbaschi added that moderate and capable figures with revolutionary backgrounds should be present at parliament, and that Nategh-Nuri was widely respected across the political spectrum.
Nategh-Nuri’s comments are also likely to be viewed in terms of the ongoing nuclear talks between Iran and world powers, including the US, over its controversial nuclear program.
Although broadly popular among the Iranian public, President Rouhani’s attempts to strike an agreement with the P5+1—the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, plus Germany—in order to obtain sanctions relief have been met with suspicion among some hardline conservatives, who allege that compromise on this issue may undermine Iranian national sovereignty.
Recently, the interim nuclear deal agreed between Iran and the P5+1 last November, together with ongoing talks to reach a final settlement, have come in for increasing criticism within the Iranian media and parliament, with the latter being increasingly forceful in its attempts to exercise more oversight of the negotiations.
The criticism has focused largely on the failure to extract from the US and its allies an admission of what Iran sees as its right to the peaceful use and development of nuclear technology, in particular uranium enrichment.
In November 2013, MP Mehrdad Bazrpash criticized the negotiators for failing to secure the West’s recognition of Iran’s right to enrich uranium.
On Monday, a conservative Iranian MP said that pressure from Iran’s parliament had forced the US to make concessions on this issue.
MP Qassem Jafari said: “Iran’s nuclear negotiating teams announced during the negotiations that if the Western party does not acknowledge Iran’s rights to uranium enrichment, they would be under pressure to continue the talks. As a result, US officials acknowledged Iran’s right to uranium enrichment,” he said.
US Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman said Saturday night that in a comprehensive agreement Iran would be able to maintain a domestic enrichment program that answers its practical needs.
In a briefing to reporters in Jerusalem, Sherman, who leads the American negotiation team to the nuclear talks between Iran and the six world powers, stressed that this program would have to be “limited, discreet, constrained, monitored and verified.”