London, Asharq Al-Awsat—In a speech delivered to mark Students’ Day in Iran on Saturday, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani reiterated his commitment to helping the country emerge from years of international isolation and maintaining its nuclear program.
Rouhani gave his remarks to an audience of over a thousand students at Iran’s prestigious Shahid Beheshti University.
“My government is committed to the promises it has made to the people, but we need to create internal consensus to achieve the objectives,” Rouhani said.
Speaking as the International Atomic Energy Agency announced that two of its inspectors had arrived in Iran to conduct monitoring under the nuclear deal recently signed with the P5+1, Rouhani dedicated a portion of his remarks to the Iranian nuclear program.
He said: “Nuclear energy is our absolute right, yes, but the right to progress, development, improving people’s livelihood and welfare are also our rights.”
In an implicit reference to local and foreign opponents to the deal with the P5+1—the five permanent UN Security Council members and Germany—in Geneva, he added: “We need to strike the right balance between idealism and realism. There are those who want to close the gateways to this country. We know that is impossible.”
Reactions from the students gathered to hear the president speech unveiled stark political divisions among educated Iranian youth. Some in the audience cheered and called for the release of political prisoners, while others chanted “Death to America,” a slogan associated with hardline conservatives who are largely opposed to Rouhani’s policies.
Commenting on the political prisoners, Hassan Rouhani declared that reason, moderation and tolerance could resolve the issue.
“If we cannot solve an internal issue of ours with calm and reason, within the framework of the law and with internal consensus, how can we resolve the complicated issues of the region and the world?” he asked.
His remarks are being interpreted as a reference to calls for the release of Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi, who led the protests that followed the disputed 2009 presidential election that saw Rouhani’s predecessor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, elected to a second term. The two men have been kept under house arrest since 2011.
Students’ Day is commemorated in Iran on December 7 each year, in remembrance of the killing of three students of the University of Tehran in 1953 as they were protesting against American intervention in Iranian domestic affairs.
In his speech on Saturday, President Rouhani, who is considered a moderate leader and who was elected on a platform calling for domestic reforms, described Students’ Day as “a historic day in Iran’s history, when pioneers and students stood against colonialism, despotism and foreign interference.”