Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
(photo credit: DATE IMPORTED: April 19, 2013 Iran's President Mah)
DUBAI - A former Iranian nuclear negotiator who is running for
president used his first television appearance of the campaign to reject
accusations he had been too soft in negotiations with world powers.
most prominent moderate candidate in an election dominated by hardliners, cleric
Hassan Rohani, nuclear negotiator from 2003 to 2005, oversaw an agreement to
suspend Iran's fledgling uranium enrichment-related activities.
since stepped up the nuclear program that many countries, particularly in the
West, fear is aimed at acquiring weapons capability, something Tehran
Hardliners see the nuclear program as a sign of national pride
and any concession to outside pressure an affront to Iran's sovereign rights.
The current nuclear negotiator, Saeed Jalili, is running for president on his
record of giving no ground in talks.
Western powers are watching the June
14 election to see whether President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's successor will set a
new tone in talks - several rounds of which in the last year have failed to
defuse tensions over the nuclear program which Israel has said it could use
military force to stop.
In a spirited exchange on state television on
Monday evening, Rohani said allegations he had halted nuclear development were
"a lie" and suggested his interviewer was "illiterate".
"It's good if you
study history," a smiling Rohani, dressed in the traditional clerical garb, told
the besuited interviewer. "We suspended it? We mastered the (nuclear)
technology!" The 64-year-old argued the Islamic Republic had expanded uranium
enrichment during his tenure while demonstrating the program's peaceful nature
and preventing a US military attack.
"We didn't allow Iran to be
attacked," he said, referring to the US military campaigns in Afghanistan and
"They (the US) imagined tomorrow or the day after, it would be
Iran's turn."TARNISHED AND HURT
Nuclear policy is ultimately decided by supreme
leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and all candidates emphasize Iran's right to
peaceful nuclear energy and deny that it plans to build nuclear
Analysts say voters are more likely to decide on candidates
based on how they would reinvigorate an economy suffering from high unemployment
But the nuclear issue has been "used to discredit rivals"
in the early days of the campaign, said Dina Esfandiary, an Iran analyst at the
International Institute for Strategic Studies.
Jalili's camp is trading
on its hardline attitude to the nuclear program. In the last five years,
Jalili, seen as rigidly devoted to Iran's Islamic revolutionary ideals, has
overseen a hardening stance in talks with world powers.
interests and security were tarnished and hurt," said Ali Bagheri, Iran's deputy
nuclear negotiator who is supporting Jalili's campaign, in a recent speech,
referring to Rohani's tenure under reformist President Mohammad
"The fate of that period was unhappy and God forbid it should be
a period that we return to." Several rounds of nuclear talks between Iran and
six world powers have failed to reach an agreement.
On Monday, European
Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, who represents the six powers at
the talks, suggested the next round should take place after the
"I think we have to wait and see how the elections turn out,
because depending on who's elected, there may be differences," she said.