A barrage of almost unprecedented diatribes from both conservatives and moderates in Iran has targeted a group of political figures who issued a joint statement June 16 calling for direct talks with the United States. Signed by 100 people, mostly of Reformist leanings but with diverse political backgrounds, the statement urges the Iranian government to enter talks with the United States despite the “psychological war waged by the White House” and asks Iran to “bravely” announce readiness for unconditional negotiations to take a step toward resolving US-Iranian differences.
“We, the undersigned, contend that direct, official and transparent dialogue with the United States will benefit regional and global peace and security and will improve the welfare, freedom and dignity of Iran and Iranians,” the statement says, lamenting what it calls the opportunity missed during the Obama presidency.
The moderate tone of the signatories nevertheless does not seem to have contained the raging fury among Iran’s conservatives, nor garnered backing from fellow Reformists. The commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), Maj.-Gen. Mohammad Ali Jafari, described those who signed the statement as “having ideological deficiencies if not traitors” and some of them as “agents with a mission to facilitate talks with Trump.” Jafari said the case of the nuclear deal was an exception when it came to direct engagement with the United States. “The supreme leader authorized it. And there was an outcome. It proved US untrustworthiness,” Jafari said. He also responded to the statement’s admiration that a meeting had taken place between Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in Singapore; Jafari said Kim, while a revolutionary, is a communist, not an Islamic leader, which is why "he ultimately gave in. But we have no mandate for compromise.”
In its June 20 editorial, hard-line newspaper Vatan-e Emrooz called the statement “a letter of surrender,” while Khorasan’s headline implied that the IRGC, the government and the Reformists are all unified in their response. The reaction of member of parliament Mohammad Reza Tabesh, the deputy chairman of the Reformist "Hope" faction in parliament, is particularly instructive. Tabesh said, “There are Reformist figures among the signees, but the statement is not the official voice of the group.” Ali Soufi, who served as minister of cooperatives, labor and social welfare under former Reformist president Mohammad Khatami (1997-2005), said, “Drafting such a statement under the current circumstances is tantamount to raising one’s hands in plain sight before the US and surrendering to it.”
The most notable name on the statement was former Tehran Mayor Gholam-Hossein Karbaschi, who served from 1988-1998. But in an interview with Fars, an IRGC-affiliated news agency, Karbaschi was vague about his level of involvement, denying he signed the statement but tacitly defending it as a piece of political opinion.
The spokesman for Rouhani’s moderate government, Mohammad Bagher Nobakht, said those who drafted the statement were “lacking political maturity.” Hamid-Reza Taraghi, a member of the Central Committee of the conservative Islamic Coalition Party, said, “They evidently demonstrated their fifth-column nature. Either they have no awareness about the US or they must be mercenaries.”
Perhaps the only moderate reaction came from deputy parliamentary speaker Ali Motahari, not traditionally from the Reformist camp but known for his outspokenness. “The statement shows freedom of speech and they have just expressed their position. But I have to say that under the current circumstances, dialogue with the US would neither be appropriate nor fruitful,” Motahari said.
Iran’s Reformists have long been accused by rival hard-liners of being submissive to the West. As such, the open statement seems to have stirred up old debates. Tasnim, another IRGC-affiliated news agency, has enumerated 16 cases in which, it claims, the Reformists have acted as a “catalyst” for further US pressure on Iran.
Yet what seems to have brought together critics of the statement from the two camps is the timing, as both share the view that amid the Trump administration’s intensifying battle against the Islamic Republic, direct dialogue will only place Iran in a weak position. The statement, however, takes an opposite point of view: “Everyone knows that dialogue is by no means compromise or defeat. Even at the height of the armed conflict with the US, Vietnam’s resistance forces did resort to dialogue while simultaneously fighting off the Americans.”