Diplomacy

Iran: Internal Criticism of Rouhani, Zarif Seen as Tactic to Paint them as Moderates

While Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has authorized nuclear negotiations with the West, hardliners associated with the Ayatollah have stepped up their rhetorical campaign against President Hassan Rouhani and Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif for their participation in the negotiations. Rouhani and Zarif have both insisted that they will not reverse any element of Iran’s nuclear program.

Photographs showing Zarif and Secretary of State John Kerry walking together in the streets of Geneva during the last round of talks between Iran and the West have provoked sharp condemnations by critics of the negotiations, including the commander of the Basij – the Iranian fundamentalist militia fiercely loyal to Iran’s Supreme Leader – and hard-line figures from the religious, political and media sectors.

The pictures, which depict the two diplomats walking along the Rhone River, became popular on Iranian social media. Many were surprised to see representatives of the two nations interacting so casually.

Cleric Mohammad-Mehdi Mandgari, a member of the “Steadfast Front” affiliated with the hardliners, stepped up the rhetoric by suggesting (Persian link) that he would support the overthrow President Rohani and the execution of his foreign minister. Mandgari referred to Abu al-Hassan Bani Sadr, the Iranian president who was ousted from office in 1981 and Foreign Minister Sadeq Kotbzada, who was executed in 1982 on charges of conspiring against the leader of the revolution, Ayatollah Khomeini.

More harsh statements came from the head of the Basij Mohammad Reza Naghdi, who said (Persian link):

“Showing intimacy with the enemy of humanity is completely wrong… Zarif walking with the US secretary of state was trampling the blood of martyrs.”

Iran’s foreign minister defended his short walk with Kerry during the nuclear negotiations in Geneva on Jan. 14, saying that his critics “want to use it as a partisan issue.”

Both Zarif and Rouhani refuse any meaningful concessions on enrichment and intend to make Iran  a nuclear threshold state. Their critics, however, object to any negotiations with the West.

[Photo: U.S. Department of State / Flickr ]