Hardline Press Rally Round Khamenei As Zarif Works Towards Final Deal

“Nobody has the right to make deals” that undermine Iran’s nuclear technology achievements, the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamanei told members of the Iranian Nuclear Energy Organization on April 9th.

But Khamenei’s insistence that Iran was slowing down the negotiation process clashed with statements coming out of Vienna, where Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif met with representatives of the P5 +1 group of countries. Despite significant “gaps” in how some of the final key points will be reached, Western leaders expressed confidence that comprehensive agreements could be met by July 20th.

Recent statements from both Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and the chief nuclear negotiator Abbas Araghchi endorse this. But in his speech marking Iran’s Nuclear Technology Day and coinciding with the third stage of nuclear negotiations in Vienna, Ali Khameini said that Iran’s nuclear program would not be halted.

Khamenei emphasised the importance of ensuring Iran’s relationship with the International Atomic Energy was a balanced one. “Our negotiators will not accept unilateral decisions made by the other side,” he said.

Iran’s Conservative Press: “It’s a Trap”

The revelation that a final nuclear agreement could be reached soon met with protest and fury from Iran’s conservative media and the country’s hardliners.

Alef, a website run by conservative MP Ahmad Tavakoli, called the current negotiations a “trap” and a “conspiracy” for a continued war against the Islamic Republic. “If the negotiating team does not understand this,” it warned, it will allow “American ideas to take hold” and support the United States’ criminal policies against Iran and the region. “America wants to distract Iran with these negotiations,” it continued, and its real aim is to force Iran to abandon its values and ideals. Alef warned that if Iran fails to retreat from its current position, the United States will feel it has the right to “take a wrecking ball to Iran, like they did in Syria”.

“Secret negotiations may have reached a point very different from what the media imagines,” reported Nuclear Iran, a website with close ties to former nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili. Jalili, who worked under former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, took pride in his unyielding stance when he was in charge of the nuclear team. This “tactic” of secrecy, it went on, was difficult for a “society which is still in political shock over the Geneva agreement” to take, adding that a final draft could have been in existence for months without some of the country’s most influential politicians and religious leaders being aware of it.

In recent weeks, the hardliner media has increased its attacks on President Rouhani’s nuclear negotiating team. When Foreign Minister Zarif asked Iranians to send him suggestions about negotiations via his Facebook page, hardliner site Mashregh News accused him of doing exactly what many supporters of Rouhani had criticized about Ahmadinejad’s administration: allowing populism to dictate Iranian foreign policy.

Citing Western media, Mashregh News also accused the foreign ministry of dangerous levels of naivety. “Contrary to initial estimates,” it wrote, “the six or seven billion dollars that was supposed to be unblocked and given to Iran” will not materialize. According to some reports, it claimed, there have been no provisions made within international finance and banking networks to transfer the promised money to Iran.

The website 598, closely affiliated to the conservative Islamic Revolutions Constancy Front, criticized Zarif for meeting with Catherine Ashton, the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs, over dinner – particularly at a time when “all Iranian authorities and members of parliament have protested against the behavior of the European parliament and its anti-Iran resolution”. It added that government officials’ passivity had become worse in recent weeks. And President Rouhani faced harsh criticism from the site for his failure to honor Nuclear Technology Day appropriately.

Heading for Catastrophe?

In a prominent position on the 598 website was a letter calling for a “nuclear debate” to be broadcast on television. The letter, signed by 1,500 seminary students and sent to the head of Iranian state-run TV and radio, argued that such a debate would allow the Iranian public to be fully informed about the Geneva accord and would provide an opportunity for them to voice their concerns.

In an article entitled “Warning to the Iranian Nation” published by the daily Vatan-e Emrouz, conservative professor Saeed Zibakalam warned that the Iranian nuclear program is being held “in chains” and that the world was witnessing the collapse of Iranian sovereignty, “one of the three fundamental principles of the Islamic Revolution”.

Zibakalam added that “the same processes that led to the Geneva accord have now picked up speed and will lead to a more disastrous and a vastly more painful final agreement in Vienna. If we don’t heed the lesson of the first agreement, if we don’t stand up to protest, we will witness a much more catastrophic tragedy,” except that this time, “both the domestic and the foreign policies of Iran will become subservient to the United States and its European allies”.

Another site, Raja News, agreeing with Zibakalam, compared Zarif’s call for suggestions from the public to attempts to cure a patient after he had already died. It outlined weaknesses in the Geneva agreement, and stated that, since Iran had endorsed it, it was now vulnerable and without adequate power to address future threats to undermine its authority.

Under the sarcastic title of “Kerry Ruins Zarif-Ashton Dinner”, The hardliner newspaper Javan wrote that U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s remarks about the readiness of the U.S. to pass sanctions against Iran for violations of human rights and its support of “anti-Iranian terrorism” shows that “we cannot be optimistic that the final agreement will respect the national rights of Iran.” It also referred to Ashton as Zarif’s “working spouse”.

The newspaper’s website reminded the public that “Western countries are under the illusion” that negotiations are a means of solving all economic problems, whereas, in this case, negotiations “have created a divide” in society. In a tone slightly more concilitary to the current Iranian government than other media outlets, it also accused the West of undermining the “flexible and pragmatic” policies of Rouhani’s government.

Khamenei’s remarks yesterday will no doubt fuel further criticism of the Rouhani administration. And with the supreme leader’s comments at odds with the message coming out of Vienna, it’s clear that Iran’s nuclear future – and its diplomatic, economic and political relationships on the international stage – hang in the balance.

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