Rouhani Rival Says Iran's Nuclear Accord Should Be Respected

  • Conservative Ebrahim Raisi comments in presidential debate
  • Deal is national document, ‘should be considered legitimate’

Iranian presidential candidate Ebrahim Raisi speaks during a campaign rally in Tehran on April 29, 2017.

Photographer: ATTA KENARE/AFP/Getty Images

Ebrahim Raisi, the conservative cleric seeking to unseat Iranian President Hassan Rouhani in this month’s election, said the country’s historic nuclear accord with the West is legitimate and should be respected.

Any incoming government should respect the nation’s commitments as part of the nuclear deal, “despite all the issues that exist” with it, the 56-year-old Raisi, who’s closely aligned with Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said Friday in the second televised debate ahead of the May 19 vote. The agreement is a national document and “should be considered legitimate from our side and from the other side,” he said.

Rouhani’s opponents have focused on his economic record since the 2015 agreement with world powers, accusing his government of failing to turn the subsequent lifting of sanctions into tangible benefits for ordinary Iranians. In Friday’s debate, Raisi also criticized the president’s approach in negotiations with the U.S. and the European Union, saying he had portrayed Iran in a weak light and sent “a bad message” to the country’s adversaries.

Defending his government’s policies, Rouhani said the Iranian people faced two alternatives -- one that promised an end to an era of isolation and faltering oil exports, and one that would likely mean a return to the tensions with the rest of the world that damaged Iran’s growth.

“We are at a crossroads,” said Rouhani, 68. “We need to choose: the path of slogans and promises or that of action and execution.”

Ahead of the election, Khamenei has called on all candidates to avoid relying on foreign investors to strengthen the economy, a comment widely interpreted as a criticism of Rouhani and implying that the next government will engage less with the West.

Trump Relations

A victory for one of the conservatives also has the potential to further exacerbate tensions with the administration of U.S. President Donald Trump, who has frequently criticized the nuclear deal and assured America’s Sunni allies in the Middle East that it wants to roll back the regional influence of Shiite Iran.

Raisi sought to minimize the government’s achievement in securing the nuclear deal, saying it hadn’t pushed back strongly enough against the U.S. and allowed some banking restrictions to remain in place, complicating trade.

“In the face of the enemy we should not show weakness,” Raisi said. They need to see that “they are facing a strong government that will not give away the rights of the people,” he said.

Six candidates were approved to stand in the election by Iran’s Guardian Council, but some may drop out before voting. They include Vice President Eshagh Jahangiri, who has said he will campaign alongside, rather than against Rouhani. If no candidate receives more than 50 percent of the vote on May 19, the leading two will enter a run-off the following week.

A poll released Monday put Rouhani ahead of Raisi in a straight, two-man race. The president was supported by 53 percent of respondents to 32 percent for the challenger. The remainder of those questioned wouldn’t back either candidate or refused to give a response. Rouhani also led Tehran Mayor Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf in the survey by state-affiliate Iranian Students Polling Agency.

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