Iran's tough nuclear stance causes domestic jitters
The uncompromising stance of Iran's new hardline authorities in a stand-off over Islamic republic's nuclear programme is worrying some Iranian officials and leading to overt criticism.
The issue is not whether or not the country should hang on to its nuclear programme, but more on how the regime should go about it. READ MORE
Since the presidential election victory of hardliner Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in June and the appointment of ultra-conservative Ali Larijani as top negotiator, the crisis has taken a turn for the worse.
Iran has slammed the door on proposals from Britain, France and Germany that it abandon fuel cycle technology in return for incentives, and decided to resume uranium conversion work in defiance of a suspension agreement with the EU-3.
The country now finds itself on the verge of being hauled before the UN Security Council -- something that the previous and more moderate Iranian negotiating team led by Hassan Rowhani had managed to avoid for two years.
The first to speak out was defeated presidential contender Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, who on Friday appealed to hardliners to exercise restraint -- notably when it came to their increasingly violent rhetoric.
"It is about diplomacy rather than slogans," the still-powerful cleric said in a sermon last week. "It is about being reasonable, negotiating and being diplomatically active."
"All methods of leverage should be used, but reasonably and with patience and wisdom (and) without provocation and slogans that give pretexts to the enemies," reminding Iranians that the stakes are "very serious".
Iran insists its nuclear programme is strictly peaceful, and argues it therefore has a "right" to conduct sensitive fuel cycle work. But uranium enrichment can be diverted to make weapons, and the United States and EU argue that the clerical regime cannot be trusted.
US President George W. Bush -- who has already lumped Iran into an "axis of evil" -- has refused to rule out using force, even if his military options against Iran may be limited for the time being.
Moreover, nuclear-armed Israel is unlikely to stand by and see the Iranian Islamic regime -- which calls for the Jewish state to be "wiped off the map" -- acquire atomic weapons.
On Tuesday moderate deputies in the Iranian parliament also warned of the economic consequences of international isolation and sanctions, complaining the new nuclear team "are failing to respect national interests in their statements."
In an open letter, the minority group said Iran was at a "sensitive stage" and noted the "free fall of the Tehran stock exchange" where nuclear jitters are hitting investor confidence.
"Sadly, the first action of the government was to change the nuclear negotiators and deprive itself of their experience and the trust they built up," Hassan Afarideh, a moderate MP, said in parliament.
"Certain officials and negotiators keep using threatening and intimidating language. It is clear we cannot reach a result through diplomacy with this kind of language," he said.
It was a clear shot at Larijani, who threatened to respond to last month's tough resolution passed by the UN's International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) by limiting inspections and resuming enrichment.
The resolution finds Iran in "non-compliance" with nuclear proliferation safeguards -- an automatic trigger for taking the matter to the Security Council.
Larijani even warned Iran could find itself forced to quit the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), and vowed Iran will use "all means" to damage US interests if Washington steps up the pressure.
Former deputy foreign minister Mohsen Aminzadeh, who is close to ex-president Mohammad Khatami, said the IAEA's resolution was "loaded with consequence and there will be a number of problems for our foreign policy".
"The efforts of the previous negotiators to ensure that Iran is not treated as a criminal have been ruined".