As news emerged that nuclear negotiations between Iran and the P5+1 countries will extend into 2015, Iran’s hardliners began preparations for a new round of battle. They bolstered their anger with fresh examples of Rouhani’s catalog of failures and wheeled out their favorite retaliatory refrains and usual complaints. From chants of “death to America!” to talk of broken keys, the president’s fiercest critics are determined to make the administration listen — and to not give into their despair over what they view as a wasted year.
So what do hardliner MPs and media say about the outcome in Vienna on November 24? And what impact will these views have on the future of Iran’s nuclear program and Iran’s standing in the international community?
Hardline MPs shouted “Death to America!” in parliament
Hours after talks ended in Vienna and the deadline was extended, several hardline MPs could not contain their anti-American sentiment, shouting “Death to America!” during an open session of parliament that began on November 25. Deputy Speaker Mohammad Hasan Abu Torabi echoed comments made by Ayatollah Khamenei over the last year, reminding his fellow parliamentarians that the United States could not be trusted and that the only way to handle them was by using the “language of power.”
Rouhani Has Achieved Nothing
“Nothing!” read the front page of hardline newspaper Vatan-e Emrouz, referring to the outcome of the latest Vienna talks, as well as President Rouhani’s achievements since taking office in June 2013. The attack forecasts the headlines — and the attitudes — that will dominate in the coming months, and the nature of the campaign against President Rouhani’s administration, which shows no signs of letting up.
Only Iran Can Tackle Islamic State Extremists
The Supreme Leader again accused the US of lying, particularly with regards to its efforts to combat Islamic State militants in Iraq and across the region. “As was said before, the West Bank must be armed and be ready to defend itself,” said Khamenei, adding that Iran would continue to support militant Palestinian groups and Lebanese Hezbollah. “This will certainly be done.” The Iranian public will undoubtedly hold the recent revelation that President Obama wrote to Ayatollah Khamenei about the ISIL crisis fresh in its mind — as will the international community.
The US has no intention of working with Iran
“What the US wants from Iran is excessive and what it offers is exactly nothing,” wrote Mehdi Mohammadi, former nuclear negotiator under President Ahmadinejad, in an editorial in Vatan-e Emrouz. “The Americans have made their intentions clear. They want Iran to relinquish its strategic capital in the enrichment and heavy water technology for a long period of time. They want Iran not to object to the fact the US clearly wants to keep the pressure of sanctions on Iran. The fact is that America is telling Iran that it should not expect a win-win deal but must yield exactly to what the US wants.”
The daily newspaper Kayhan, which operates out of the office of the Supreme Leader, bemoaned the fact that Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif shook hands with US Secretary of State John Kerry whom they labelled as a “representative of a regime that has on its hands the blood of tens of millions of innocent people from the four corners of the region.” An editorial in the paper also made a reference to Yasser Arafat, known for the failed peace negotiations at the Camp David Summit in 2000. With that, Rouhani joined the ranks of leaders who want to do good things but are illequipped to do so. For Kayhan, Arafat emerged as the more heroic of the two.
Like other hardliners, Mohammadi is furious at what he views as American intransigence - at a nation unwilling to bend even slightly despite a belief that Iran is willing to to some extent. “Given the present American position,” he wrote, “it will be very difficult to reach an agreement with which both sides can abide to in the long term.” With the situation being what it is, he said, a shift in attitudes over the next seven months is unlikely, and, looking further afield, there is also little hope.
Rouhani is a loser who refuses to listen to the Supreme Leader
Rouhani’s government has ignored the “good guidance” of the Supreme Leader. He has refused to listen to calls for the economy to be revamped. Instead, say hardliners, Rouhani has tied everything to negotiations, thereby following America’s lead without taking control himself. He and his government are the ultimate losers, both within Iran and on the international stage.
“Since the Geneva agreement, we have had 100 new sanctions,” said Hamid Rasaei, an ally of Saeed Jalili, former chief nuclear negotiator under former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. “Insults have increased. Centrifuges have been sealed, the factories have been idled and things are more expensive.” He called on Rouhani to apologize.
Kayhan was quick to throw some of Rouhani’s statements back at him: “The village chief was not reliable; sanctions were renewed,” ran its headline on November 25, a reminder of Rouhani’s insistence that Iran must talk to the US because it is “chief of the global village.” Instead of trusting the lord, echoed Rasaei, Rouhani trusted the village lord. “All problems go back to the weak and ambiguous text of the Geneva agreement,” he said, harking back to November 2013.
Rouhani might have fooled voters last year but the game is up now
“The key to trust with America is broken now,” Rasaei said, reminding Rouhani — and the Iranian public —- of a more hopeful time, when the image of a key was so central to his 2013 presidential campaign.
The hardliner website Raja News had some advice for Rouhani. “With the unannounced failure of Vienna talks,” it wrote, “the government and the president need a new lever to manage the domestic arena. But the important point is this: Tying the livelihood of the people to sanctions might have directed the popular vote to Mr. Rouhani’s ballot box during the elections but in the future, when the seven-month deadline is over, it will come back to haunt the government.”
Let’s call negotiations off
“Time is not on our side,” wrote political analyst Mohammad Imani on the website Alef, which is affiliated with the influential hardliner MP Ahmad Tavakoli. Negotiations must be called off, he said. “Yesterday we had sanctions and the development of the nuclear industry. Today we have sanctions and no development of the industry.”
Deputy to the speaker of parliament, Mohammad Reza Bahonar, expressed the same sentiments while being careful not to appear unfair to Rouhani’s government. “The whole regime has agreed that negotiations must be done,” he said at a news conference and expressed confidence in the negotiating team. “We are not going to be the ones who scuttle it.” But, he added, “centrifuges must continue spinning and we must work hard for the wheels of the economy to spin as well.”
Opposition to nuclear negotiations is bound to gather speed and intensity in the coming days and months. And Ayatollah Khamenei’s remarks on November 25 can only fan the flames. Speaking to representatives of a so-called global conference to address the increasing Salafi movement in the Middle East, he labelled Europe as a group of colonialists — and even worse than that, they are colonialists that teamed up with the US “to bring the Islamic Republic of Iran to its knees in nuclear negotiations.” But he added, “they failed. And they will continue to fail in the future.”
Hardliners in Iran are calling for an end to talks; they are calling for an end to engagement with the United States. But the reality is that the message 6,000 miles away in Washington DC is not so different. Hardliner politicians in the US have also gotten caught up in the details, unwilling to see how an imperfect agreement could not only lead to a more reliable nuclear outcome for all but affect a more politically open Iran - this could lead to rapprochement in other areas. Both sides are pushing for a solution that will suit them but failure to recognize that a middle ground may well be the answer could worsen the road ahead considerably.