Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, in unprecedented public sparring with state authorities, accused the official television company of trying to keep him off the air by deliberately holding up his address to the nation.
Rouhani said on Twitter yesterday that the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting head, Ezatollah Zarghami, was obstructing his “discussion with the people.” As his speech was due to air, state TV showed video clips from the Islamic revolution of 1979 -- images of soldiers clashing with fist-pumping demonstrators, against a soundtrack of revolutionary slogans. Iranians mark the anniversary of the revolution on Feb. 11.
Rouhani has clashed with conservatives in Iran who have opposed diplomatic initiatives such as the phone conversation with President Barack Obama that ended a three-decade taboo, and the nuclear accord reached with world powers in Geneva in November. Zarghami reports to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the top decision-maker in the Islamic Republic.
Scrolling banners on the TV screen attributed the delay to technical problems. Local media, including the state-run Iranian Students News Agency, gave other, conflicting accounts, including disputes over the choice of a presenter and which journalists would put questions to Rouhani.
The president referred several times to the spat once the program eventually went on air about an hour late. “We are a bit late, and the viewers might be tired,” he said in his introductory remarks.
After the program, Zarghami released the text of a letter he wrote to the broadcasting supervisory council complaining about Rouhani’s tactics.
In the address, Rouhani defended the Geneva accord, saying it was a “win-win” for both sides, and that Iran seeks to develop relations with Russia. He said the country has been able to obtain $8 billion in foreign financing, though he added that it needs about $175 billion to develop its oil, gas and petrochemicals industries.
Rouhani also announced plans to extend medical insurance to all Iranians. Initially the program, dubbed RouhaniCare in a Twitter post by the president, will cover 5 million uninsured people. Rouhani said there are no immediate plans to reduce cash subsidies, though he called on Iranians who don’t depend on the monthly handouts to waive them so the money can be used elsewhere.
Iran’s economy has been reeling from the effects of sanctions over the country’s nuclear program, and Rouhani was elected on a pledge to improve it.