A senior adviser to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei struck out at nuclear policy negotiator Saeed Jalili for lacking diplomatic skill in talks with world powers, giving an unexpected turn to a debate between contestants before next week’s presidential election.
“You were in charge of the nuclear file for several years and we haven’t taken a single step ahead,” said Ali Akbar Velayati, foreign policy adviser to Khamenei.“Nuclear diplomacy means safeguarding rights while decreasing sanctions against Iran.”
Velayati’s comments mark an unusual public criticism of the country’s handling of the nuclear negotiations. Today’s program on state television was intended to present candidates’ views on local politics and foreign policy. It quickly led to a heated exchange, with some participants taking direct jabs at others, unlike the two previous debates on society and economy when there was a relative consensus on some topics.
Jalili, secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, has been deemed a possible front-runner in the elections and headed several rounds of unsuccessful nuclear negotiations.
He defended his approach in the debate, saying his team had displayed “strong rationale” in the face of foreign powers’ demands that Iran curtail nuclear development. Iran is a signatory to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and maintains its program is for civilian applications.
Diplomacy “isn’t solely about displaying toughness, stubbornness,” Velayati, an ex-foreign minister, said in the last debate among the eight candidates before the June 14 vote. “The art of diplomacy is about give and take.”
Iran is embroiled in political conflict with U.S. and its Western allies, which accuse the country of seeking to develop atomic weapons under the cover of a nuclear program. Economic, financial and energy sanctions spearheaded by the U.S. and imposed during President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s two terms have cut Iran’s crude oil exports, weakened its currency, and contributed to surging inflation.
Khamenei, the ultimate authority in the country, has urged Iranians to vote massively as a show of support for the Islamic Republic, saying that he has no favorite candidate. Ahmadinejad can’t run for a third consecutive term.