Last Friday, presidential candidate Ali Akbar Velayati shocked viewers when he shamed Saeed Jalili, Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator and rival candidate, in a live televised debate on Iran’s state-owned television channel.
In a rare and unusual approach, Velayati openly spoke of Iran’s controversial nuclear file and weak diplomacy pursued by Jalili and his team over the last seven years.
Velayati criticized Jalili’s method of negotiating with Western powers and the 5+1 group (the five permanent UN Security Council members plus Germany), calling his approach flawed.
“Nuclear negotiations and diplomacy are not a philosophy class where you can claim victory because your logic was greater than theirs!”
Velayati continued, “What people have seen is that under your leadership not one step of progress has been made and instead [international] sanctions have increased and affected their lives.”
A slip of the tongue?
Such a shocking statement made in public was no slip of the tongue and could not have been done without the Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei’s prior knowledge and consent.
Jalili’s record shows that since serving as the chief nuclear negotiator, Western nations and the US have imposed harsher sanctions on IranCamelia Entekhabi-Fard
A seasoned diplomat with sixteen years as Iran’s foreign minister and later appointed as the supreme leader’s international affairs advisor, Velayati would not have made such statements without permission.
Velayati not only accused Jalili for the failed diplomacy but also went as far as revealing a secret deal in 2005 when then–chief nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani reached an agreement with the head of the European Union Javier Solana, only to have it undermined by members of the Iranian government.
In this case, Velayati’s attack was against President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Ahmadinejad’s hatred of Larijani. Ahmadinejad had used this opportunity to appoint Jalili as the head of the National Security Council, and by extension the chief nuclear negotiator.
Jalili’s record shows that since serving as the chief nuclear negotiator, Western nations and the US have imposed harsher sanctions on Iran. The oil embargo and sanctions on the Central Bank have decreased Iran’s major revenue drastically.
The sanctions caused the highest inflation and price hike in Iran’s history, surpassing even the period during the Iran-Iraq war.
Who is to blame?
With a troubled economy, increasing international pressure, and unsolved nuclear file, who is easier to blame than the outgoing president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad?
In response, Ahmadinejad claimed that he did not intervene in the nuclear discussion.
Ahmadinejad stated, “I don’t have anything to do with nuclear negotiations and I don’t intervene. Someone else is in charge of this file.”
As the president, Ahmadinejad is responsible for appointing the head of the National Security Council and Jalili was Ahmadinejad’s choice.
At the same time, it is clear that the supreme leader has the final say for all major decisions.
Regardless of whether or not Jalili becomes the next president, the chief negotiator will change and this change will be reflected in the next round of negotiations.
An honest confrontation
Velayati should be credited for his honest confrontation with Jalili during the live televised debate but doubt is cast whether or not his thoughts reflected that of the supreme leader’s.
It would be very unusual if Velayati expressed his own opinion so bravely without thinking of the consequences. Can this be the supreme leader’s new foreign policy and his attempt to reduce tensions with the international community?
If so, there is reason to be optimistic about the future of the nuclear negotiations and Iran’s approach to diplomacy with the international community.
It is difficult to imagine that Jalili will politically survive this heavy confrontation (not only by Velayati but also the other candidates) and become the president.
People needed to hear why their lives have become so difficult and this was the opportunity to confront Jalili publicly.
Most of the well-known, heavy weight, conservative political and religious leaders and parties officially stand with Velayati as their supported candidate. The Seminary of Qom Scholars Association, on late Sunday released supporting statement for Dr. Velayati.
Iran’s foreign policy and nuclear file are the central issues of this election and people will vote for the person who is willing to improve their lives and this person is not Jalili. In another televised program on Sunday evening Dr. Velayati indicated that he is willing to solve the nuclear file issue however at this point is not very easy and needs lots of work with many countries plus neighboring countries. “ We have to reduce the tensions with the neighbors’ and then make a good relations like previous years with them.” Velayati said on Sunday evening.
In general we should be optimistic about the outcome of this election no matter who becomes the next president. The regime is aiming to make changes.
Camelia Entekhabi-Fard is a journalist, news commentator and writer who grew up during the Iranian Revolution and wrote for leading reformist newspapers. She is also the author of Camelia: Save Yourself by Telling the Truth - A Memoir of Iran. She lives in New York City and Dubai. She can be found on Twitter: @CameliaFard