Speaker Ghalibaf Hits Back At Iran's Rouhani As Nuclear Cold War Continues
The cold war between President Hassan Rouhani and his old rival, Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf (Qalibaf), Speaker of the hardline-dominated parliament, escalated on Thursday evening as Ghalibaf responded to Rouhani’s plea, just hours earlier, for the nuclear issue to be left in the hands of those “successful” in diplomacy.
Rouhani had not named anyone in his bitterly worded remarks accusing critics in parliament of being “over enthusiastic” in pushing draft legislation that would have compelled the government and Atomic Energy Organization of Iran to reduce cooperation with United Nations nuclear inspectors if sanctions were not soon lifted. Better to leave matters, said Rouhani, to those “who have over 20 years of experience and succeeded in diplomacy and defeated the United States in the UN over and over again.”
Ghalibaf had no doubt where Rouhani’s barbs were directed.
And in a long interview with state television, he soon hit back: “Mr. Rouhani tells [us] not to be over enthusiastic. We aren’t over enthusiastic. We want this administration to leave a good memory behind. People have been waiting for you for seven years to do something.”
Against the argument of the Rouhani government that parliament lacks authority over the nuclear issue – which rests with the Supreme National Security Council (SNSC) – Ghalibaf insisted that parliamentary legislation did not interfere in executive affairs and that the parliament had a right to “set the path.”
The confrontation between the two rivals has followed an admonition in July from Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei to avoid confrontations as rivalries intensified in the run-up to next June’s presidential election. Feelings rose in the emotional atmosphere following the assassination last Friday [November 27] of nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, leading parliament to pass a controversial draft bill that would have demanded Iran expand its uranium enrichment and reduce UN nuclear inspections unless sanctions were soon lifted. The bill was amended, and left ambiguous with respect to enforcement, after it was sent to the Guardian Council, a constitutional body where Khamenei exercises considerable influence.
The legislation has been seen as potentially damaging to prospects of progress over the standoff with the US and potentially a death blow to the 2015 nuclear agreement with world powers, which Rouhani and US president-elect Joe Biden are committed to reviving after President Donald Trump withdrew the US in 2018 before imposing crippling sanctions that sent the Iranian economy into a three-year stagflation.
Moderates and reformists argue that hardliners’ moves not only threaten the JCPOA but, together with their resistance to draft laws accepting the conventions of the Financial Action Task Force (FTAF), amount to “self-sanctioning” and deepen Iran’s international isolation. They charge that the hardliners are motivated in part by undermining the Rouhani administration as next year’s presidential election approaches, although Rouhani himself will be constitutionally ineligible to seek a third consecutive term.
On Thursday, Rouhani promised to “bequeath any success of the administration [in solving the issue of sanctions]” to whoever followed him. His chief-of-staff Ali Vaezi charged that the draft parliamentary legislation was intended to prevent the easing of international sanctions while Rouhani remained in office. “They want to prevent the administration from making improvements in people’s lives, so constantly attack so they can win in the 2021 elections,” Vaezi told the Iranian Labour News Agency (ILNA).
Ghalibaf – who previously stood unsuccessfully for president against both Rouhani and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad – may be a candidate in June. The name of Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, who so far insists he has no intention of running, has been floated by many as the best choice for both reformists and Rouhani-allied centrists.