After the April 2 Lausanne nuclear framework announcement, Iranian analysts, academics and political figures participated in panel discussions designed as public debates to discuss the deal. One of the more heated debates, which was shared widely on social media, pitted Tehran professor Sadegh Zibakalam against hard-line Iranian MP Hamid Rasaei.
Zibakalam, while not a nuclear expert (who admittedly did not even read the Lausanne statement), raised questions that many other analysts and journalists haven't approached. During the April 6 debate, he criticized both the costs Iran has paid for its nuclear program and questioned Iran’s policy toward Israel.
On the nuclear program, Zibakalam said that he once asked nuclear negotiator Abbas Araghchi, “Assume in 20 or 30 years your grandchild asks you if that terrible cost that you and your generation paid for the nuclear [program], if you would have spent this on the water of the country, for agriculture, would not the Iranian people be better off?" Slamming his hands on the table, he said: “My argument with Mr. Rasaei is here. With every fiber of my being, I believe that you did not have permission to throw the wealth of the nation into the nuclear well. You did not have permission. Why didn’t the parliament interfere in the nuclear work? Which representative from parliament came to interfere in the nuclear program?” By interfere, Zibakalam meant to question the nuclear program's merits. However, most of the conservative dominant parliament supports the nuclear program and is cautious about a deal.
Turning to journalists at the debate, Zibakalam said: “Brothers and sisters, you are reporters. How many people work for the Atomic Energy Organization? 10,000, 20,000, 30,000, 40,000 people? What is its budget? ... Who should answer for this? This is what the fight is over. Does anyone know how much we spend directly and indirectly for the nuclear [program]?”
On the Lausanne statement specifically, Zibakalam said, “If I am happy, because it is that I see light at the end of the tunnel.”
Zibakalam also dismissed those in Iran who believe that the West is opposed to their nuclear program because they don’t want Iran to progress scientifically. He said: “A nuclear program will not create either a scientific miracle nor an economic miracle.” Rather, he said, the reason the West has a problem with Iran’s nuclear program is because Iran “is the only country that openly and officially says it wants to destroy a country by the name of Israel. It’s not just a slogan. It’s acted upon it. If Hamas does not have tanks, it’s because we couldn’t send them tanks. If Hezbollah does not have tanks, it’s because we couldn’t send them tanks. But whatever we’ve been able to send them, we’ve sent them. This concern exists: A country is enriching uranium that officially says it will destroy another country.”
He asked, “Who gave us this responsibility to destroy Israel? … Even Palestinians do not say they must destroy Israel. They say they want a Palestinian state on the map next to Israel. We’ve become more Catholic than the pope.”
In the past, Zibakalam has raised these issues in other venues and been a strong supporter of President Hassan Rouhani’s foreign policy. In June, he received a suspended sentence for questioning the costs of Iran’s nuclear program.
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