President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad vowed again Wednesday not to make concessions to the West over Iran’s nuclear program, while an Iranian newspaper reproached the hard-line leader for his attacks on critics in the country’s conservative camp.
Iranians overwhelmingly back Iran’s right to make use of nuclear energy, but criticism of Ahmadinejad has been growing in recent months over his confrontational approach to the U.S. and its allies in the dispute. Many people are also discontented over the poor economy.
Jomhuri-e-Eslami, a daily aligned with Iran’s Islamic establishment, ran an editorial taking Ahmadinejad to task for calling former nuclear negotiator Hossein Mousavian a “traitor.” It said the president was “wrong,” and added that only courts should make such judgments.
Although the president named Mousavian, his attack was widely viewed as being aimed at the envoy’s ally, former president Hashemi Rafsanjani, who is thought to be arguing for a more moderate stance in Iran’s dealings with the West.
Rafsanjani has emerged as a leader of conservatives who once supported Ahmadinejad but have increasingly gone public with criticism of government policies. He also likely worries the president because he has some influence with Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has ultimate say over all issues, including the nuclear program.
Earlier this month, Ahmadinejad branded critics of his handling of the nuclear issue as “traitors” and warned he would take action against them — a warning many saw as a volley against Rafsanjani’s camp.
“It is not correct to take judgment about such issues to the press, universities and the public,” Jomhuri-e-Eslami said in its editorial.
It said Ahmadinejad should not interfere in judicial matters and suggested legal action should be taken against those who make allegations against individuals — a comment believed directed at the president.
Leader says Iran will work with U.N.
Speaking at a rally in Ardabil, a city in the northwest, Ahmadinejad stood firm in rejecting calls for moderation in grappling with international pressure over the nuclear program. He said concessions would only result in more concessions being demanded further down the road.
“They want to get a small concession from us — for instance, that we won’t go beyond a certain point within the next four years or we annually make just a certain amount of progress,” he said. “This will become a legal precedent. Then, they will come and threaten us to obtain another concession.”
Ahmadinejad said Iran will not go beyond its current work with the U.N.’s nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, based in Vienna, Austria.
An IAEA report last week said Iran had cooperated in answering some questions about its past nuclear activities, but added that little is known about current work and that Tehran continues to defy a U.N. Security Council demand that it suspend uranium enrichment.
Iran contends its enrichment program is meant solely for the production of fuel for nuclear reactors that would generate electricity. But the U.S. and its allies suspect the Iranians are secretly trying to develop atomic weapons.
Iran’s state news agency, IRNA, said Wednesday that the country’s top nuclear negotiator and the European Union’s foreign policy chief would meet Nov. 30 in London for another round of talks.
However, EU officials in Brussels, Belgium, suggested it was unlikely a meeting would be held that day. Earlier EU-Iranian talks have often been preceded by a series of dates floated by Tehran.
EU envoy Javier Solana has been meeting with Iranian negotiator Saeed Jalili on behalf of the five Security Council members and Germany, which have led international efforts to persuade Tehran to curb its nuclear program in return for a package of economic incentives.
In Vienna, an American diplomat expressed confidence Wednesday that the IAEA’s 35-nation board will urge Iran this week to obey the Security Council demands on enrichment as well as open its nuclear facilities fully to international scrutiny.
Gregory L. Schulte, chief delegate to the U.N. agency, commented on the eve of the board’s two-day meeting to discuss the Iran situation.
The U.S., Britain and France are pushing for a third round of U.N. sanctions over Iran’s failure to halt enrichment. But Russia and China, the Security Council’s two other veto-holding permanent members, argue that negotiations should be pursued further before more penalties are imposed.