TEHRAN — Hardline students took to the streets of Tehran on Sunday to demand their government not cave to Western pressures, as negotiators from Iran and the West frantically tried to hammer out a nuclear deal in Vienna on the eve of a self-imposed deadline.
Around 300 protesters gathered near Tehran's nuclear reactor, chanting "Death to America and Israel" as men on megaphones criticized the negotiating tactics deployed by Iran's moderate President Hassan Rouhani in Vienna. The protesters — all in conservative attire — insisted that all sanctions against Iran be dropped and that Tehran be allowed to maintain its nuclear rights.
"We are here to tell America that we will not surrender, we will never give up our rights and we are against all sanctions,” 19-year-old student Saghafi told NBC News.
Progress in Vienna has been elusive, with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on Saturday saying "serious gaps" remained in reaching a deal on Iran's nuclear program. Iran has repeatedly denied that it is seeking to develop nuclear weapons and is hoping that concessions from its side — and possibly more regular access to the country’s nuclear facilities — will lead to the lifting of painful international sanctions.
Opinion in Iran over the talks is split. Many want to see a deal happen so sanctions will be lifted, hoping for an improving economy and an end to Iran’s isolation in the world community. But others, especially the hardliners who took to the streets Sunday in Tehran, want to hold on to a full-scale nuclear program.
Mohammed Asghari, another 19-year-old student, called Kerry and the U.S. government "stupid" as he protested in Tehran on Sunday.
"Down with them!" he said.