Last week, the University of Tehran hosted a conference in which a panel of prominent professors and former officials expressed unprecedented public criticism of Iran’s nuclear program. The panelists drew parallels between the devastating costs of the Iran-Iraq war and those of Iran’s nuclear program and questioned its usefulness and achievements. The meeting made headlines even in the Western media for the panelists' audacity in questioning what the top leadership of the Islamic Republic considers a national security issue.
As expected, criticism of the panelists — Sadeg Zibakalam, Ahmad Shirzad and Davoud Hermidas-Bavand — was swift and harsh.
“One voice with Israel” was the top headline of hard-line Vatan Emrooz, which featured a picture of the panelists, suggesting that they are adopting Israel’s positions in their opposition to Iran’s nuclear program. The article’s subheader read, “Footprints of the hopes of [Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu and [US President Barack] Obama in the recommendations of the administration’s supporters.”
Vatan Emrooz, which opposes a nuclear compromise, reported that since the administration has no progress to show from the interim agreements, those who have supported the negotiation efforts have resorted to “undermining the principle of Iran’s nuclear rights.” Zibakalam in particular has been supportive of Rouhani’s work to resolve the nuclear crisis and has been much more blunt than the president on the need to resolve regional issues.
The article slammed Rouhani and chief nuclear negotiator Mohammad Javad Zarif for not condemning the panelists' comments. When conservatives criticized the nuclear negotiations, Rouhani called them “semi-literate.”
Kayhan, whose editor Hossein Shariatmadari was appointed by the supreme leader, published several articles about the conference. In an editorial, Shariatmadari wrote that just as the nuclear negotiations are reaching a sensitive stage “and the enemy does not hide its desire to completely suspend Iran’s nuclear program, some inside the country are exactly repeating the enemy’s goals.” The article presented a number of arguments why Iran needs a nuclear program and what the nuclear project has achieved.
Shariatmadari also criticized the media for being “at the discretion of the enemy,” and portraying dissenting voices as being louder and more significant than they really are. He called the practice a “ploy” that presents “fooled or purchased” individuals to show that Iran is divided on this issue.
In an interview with Fars News, republished by Kayhan, Shariatmadari called Zibakalam and Shirzad “Reformists” and said that they had encouraged the administration to “commit treason.” He said that he expects the administration to deny having any relationship with them.
Kayhan also compiled a list of individuals who have condemned the positions staked at the conference. Parliament member Ali Asghar Zarei said that these types of comments weaken the positions of the nuclear negotiators. Parliament member Zahra Teyebzadeh said that the comments were insulting to Iran’s assassinated nuclear scientists and are “straightening the path for the goals of the Americans.” Ebrahim Karkhanei, the head of the Iranian Parliament’s nuclear committee, said that Iran’s nuclear program is at the frontline “of confronting arrogant” powers, and that retreating will not resolve any problems.
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