The positive reception for the visit of the European Union’s Catherine Ashton (pictured), the lead nuclear negotiator for the 5+1 Powers, took an unexpected downturn on Monday.
Iranian officials denounced the Austrian Embassy for hosting Ashton’s meeting with women’s rights activists. Participants included Gohar Eshghi, the mother of Iranian blogger Sattar Beheshti, killed in detention in November 2012.
Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Marzieh Afkham said it would “lead to an increased suspicion between our people and the West” and did not “help relations between Iran and Europe”.
The deputy head of armed forces, General Massoud Jazayeri, said Ashton had met “seditionists”, as he maintained the military’s warning to the Rouhani Government not to open up social and cultural relations:
We will not permit the meddling of the West in Iran’s domestic affairs whatsoever. Related officials must be careful so the (nuclear) negotiations do not cross into the determined limitations….It is best for Ashton to think about women’s rights in the European Union.
Interestingly, the regime’s English-language outlet Press TV avoids the controversy and tries to maintain the optimistic line: “EU willing to enhance ties with Iran: Ashton“.
The English site of Fars, linked to the Revolutionary Guards, also does not mention the criticism of the Austrian Embassy, while featuring denials of reports that the EU is opening an office in Tehran.
However, the Tehran Times does headline the Foreign Ministry’s warning to the Embassy.
Supreme Leader’s Top Advisor: “We Will Not Give Up Iota of Nuclear Rights”
Following the discussions with the European Union’s Catherine Ashton, high-level Iranian officials maintained their line that Tehran will not dismantle nuclear facilities under any final agreement.
Ali Akbar Velayati, the Supreme Leader’s senior adviser on foreign policy, said the Islamic Republic will not back down “an iota from its nuclear rights.”
Velayati said he told Ashton that had “violated commitments” in November’s interim deal by imposing additional sanctions on Iranian companies and individuals.
Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif wrote on Twitter:
Recognition that #Iran will only accept solution that respects its dignity and rights can lead to final nuclear deal before this summer.
— Javad Zarif (@JZarif) March 10, 2014
Supreme Leader Maintains Pressure on Rouhani Over Cultural Matters
It appears the Supreme Leader is maintaining pressure on President Rouhani over any attempt to open up cultural space.
Following last week’s expression of concern by Ayatollah Khamenei over “cultural issues”, his representative to the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, Ali Saeedi, told its “Clergy Convention” on Monday</a>:
Some currents are calling hezbollahis extremists (for their criticism of the media and cultural openness). They should interpret the meaning of extremism before anything.
Saeedi repeated the Supreme Leader’s concern about “the country’s cultural situation”.
In a specific jab at Rouhani, Khamenei’s representative repeated the denunciation of the Aseman newspaper, which was banned and its editors detained last month.
Rouhani had said on Saturday, “Shutting down a newspaper should be the last resort not the first.”
(Hat tip to Iran Tracker for translation)