TEHRAN — As nuclear talks between Iran and world powers enter a crucial phase, critics of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani are voicing concerns about his administration’s handling of the negotiations.
Rouhani campaigned last year on the promise that he would improve Iran’s ailing economy by mending its international relations. But nine months into his presidency, the economy continues to sag, and his political opponents say Rouhani and his team may be eager to make nuclear concessions that go against the nation’s long-term interests.
Iran’s 290-member parliament issued a statement Monday calling on Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, who oversees the talks, to “defend the Iranian nation’s nuclear rights based on the Non-Proliferation Treaty” and to “not give up any of the achievements made in the area of peaceful nuclear technology in return for promises by the world powers.”
It was a not-so-subtle reminder that despite public support and the Islamic establishment’s avowed commitment to the negotiating process, there are limits to the compromises that Iran’s real power brokers may be willing to make.
Across the political spectrum, there is consensus that Tehran should not give up its uranium enrichment programs and that other issues, including Iran’s role in Syria or its ballistic missile program, should not be part of the nuclear talks.
Rouhani delivered a speech televised live Sunday that appeared designed to demonstrate his commitment to what Iran calls its inalienable right to a peaceful nuclear program.
“We have nothing to put on the table and offer to them but transparency. That’s it. Our nuclear technology is not up for negotiation,” he said, promising that Iran would never accept “nuclear apartheid.”
Negotiating teams from Tehran and six world powers will convene in Vienna on Wednesday to begin drafting a deal that would permanently end the more-than-decade-long standoff over Iran’s nuclear activities. The dispute has resulted in economic sanctions that have significantly damaged the nation’s economy.
Rouhani’s administration seems determined to reach a final deal ahead of an informal July 20 deadline set as part of an initial agreement inked in Geneva in November. Both Tehran and the Western powers say that even if a permanent deal is not clinched by the deadline, it does not mean a breakdown in talks, with the parties insisting that they are dedicated to brokering a long-term solution.
Under the preliminary Geneva deal, Iran was granted limited sanctions relief and gained access to more than $4 billion in frozen assets in exchange for pausing some of its most-sensitive nuclear work.
Rouhani’s rivals question that agreement. On Monday, 70 conservative lawmakers summoned Iran’s current and former nuclear negotiating teams to answer questions about its effectiveness.
Ultimately, however, Rouhani’s administration appears to be sticking to its negotiating strategy, confident that he has a mandate from the people to pursue it.
Perhaps even more important, however, is the guarded support for talks from Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the nation’s final decision-maker in political matters.
“I have always advised officials to do their best to show innovation in the area of foreign policy and international interactions,” Khamenei said Sunday in a meeting with Revolutionary Guard Corps commanders in Tehran.
But he also reiterated that Iran would continue developing weapons technology in the face of military threats from the United States and its allies.
“They expect us to limit our missile program while they constantly threaten Iran with military action. Such an expectation is idiotic and insane,” Khamenei said.