AFP – Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif fought back Tuesday against increasingly scathing criticism from hardliners, saying his pragmatic approach to diplomacy had stolen Israel’s thunder.
After years of bellicose rhetoric from ex-president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Zarif said the new government had managed to put an end to Israel’s portrayal of Iran as “a danger” over its nuclear ambitions.
Ultra-conservatives have upped the ante in recent weeks by chastising an interim nuclear deal Iran struck with world powers in November, under Zarif’s brief as the top negotiator.
Comprised of religious figures, former lawmakers and officials as well as some current MPs, the critics are also unhappy about Zarif’s more moderate foreign policy, including what they call his “reactionary stance towards the bastard [Israeli] Zionist regime and the Holocaust”.
The incumbent lawmakers — particularly those in Iran’s national security and foreign policy commission — are pressuring Zarif, taking him to the parliament floor and questioning him.
At such a session Tuesday, Zarif spoke about Israel, whose existence Tehran does not recognise, Iranian media reported.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin “Netanyahu shamelessly makes a scene saying Iran denies the Holocaust, Iran wants to build a nuclear bomb to carry out another Holocaust,” Zarif said.
“But my colleagues and I are telling the world Iran is opposed to anti-Semiticism and genocide,” he said.
The remarks contrast with Ahmadinejad’s tirades, whose repeated denial of the Holocaust and expressions of hope for the destruction of Israel pushed the two foes ever further apart.
It also resulted in global condemnation of Tehran and paved the way for sanctions over Iran’s nuclear drive.
Zarif and President Hassan Rouhani have sought to soften that anti-Israeli image, despite supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei repeatedly casting doubts over the existence and scale of the Holocaust.
The Holocaust remains a polarising issue in Iran, but the leadership appears to be united in seeking to reduce tensions with the world.
Khamenei, who has the final say on key state affairs including nuclear policy, has lent qualified support to Rouhani to push for a permanent deal that would ultimately lift sanctions on Iran in exchange for curbs on its atomic drive.
“We shall not allow the Zionist regime — who is illegally in possession of chemical and nuclear weapons and is the biggest violator of non-proliferation laws — to portray Iran as a danger,” Zarif said.
“Our foreign policy has taken away Israel’s peace of mind and comfort, pushing it into a reactionary stance and international isolation,” he added.
Western powers suspect Iran’s atomic drive masks military objectives despite Tehran’s insistence that it only seeks peaceful applications of the technology to produce electricity and medical isotopes and conduct research.
Israel, the sole if undeclared nuclear-armed power in the Middle East, has been lashing out over the negotiations between Tehran and the P5 + 1 (Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States plus Germany).
The hardliners argue that Iran is being outfoxed in the nuclear talks, which will resume next week.
They say the interim deal that brought partial sanctions relief as well as the release of billions of frozen Iranian assets in exchange for curbs and a temporary halt in nuclear activities was not in the national interest.
Those worries were aired during a weekend protest gathering — named “We Are Worried” — at the former US embassy compound in Tehran, attended mostly by Basij militia members.
They riled against the direction Iran is taking under Rouhani and expressed worries that Tehran would be cheated at the talks.
Zarif on Tuesday did not directly comment on the weekend gathering, but alluded to it by saying: “We are a valiant nation not a worried one.”
He also said his approach is approved by Khamenei. “I am proud that my stances are the same as the supreme leader,” the ISNA news agency reported.