DUBAI: Iranian President Hassan Rouhani vowed on Wednesday to win the battle with hardliners who are against his policy of detente, as the nuclear talks that they oppose enter a critical phase.
Elected in a landslide 11 months ago, Rouhani reversed the antagonistic stance his predecessor Mahmoud Ahmadinejad took towards the West and led Iran into talks about its nuclear program that resume in Vienna next week ahead of a self-imposed July 20 deadline for a deal.
“Through unity and harmony we can put all problems behind us … and will stand against those who don’t walk in step with the people,” Rouhani told a group of officials during a provincial trip, state news agency IRNA reported.
“We will stand against extremism, and with the help of God, score a victory against extremists,” he said, in a reference to politicians and clerics who consider his opening to the West — including Iran’s long-time foe the United States — a weakening of the Islamic Republic.
“The people and supreme leader are behind us in the (nuclear) talks. We will triumph,” he said, referring to Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the religious leader of Iran who has final say on any major shift in foreign or nuclear policy.
Rouhani’s opponents have made their discontent clear.
On Tuesday, hardliners in Iran’s parliament tried but failed to push through a censure motion against the chief nuclear negotiator, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, for refusing to deny the “lie of the Holocaust.”
Zarif had called the Holocaust a “horrifying tragedy”, part of the government’s effort to distance itself from Ahmadinejad’s anti-Semitic reputation which increased international resolve to curb the nuclear program that Israel says is intended to develop a bomb that could be used to destroy the Jewish state.
But Rouhani’s moderate stance has only made him more vulnerable to internal criticism.
On Saturday, opponents of the nuclear talks staged a gathering at the site of the former U.S. embassy in Tehran, overrun by militants and occupied since 1979.
The same group, campaigning under the banner “Concerned Patriots,” has called for a demonstration after Friday prayers in Tehran this week.
Anti-government pressure has not been limited to the nuclear issue.
Hundreds of hardliners turned out in a downtown Tehran square on Wednesday demanding a crackdown on “loose dress” — the tendency for many Iranians to push against laws demanding people wear strict Islamic dress, including, for women, fully covering their hair.