LATEST: Oil Minister Attacked for “Selling Natural Gas to Europe” Statement

Clerics and hardline critics poured more pressure on the Rouhani Government on Friday, telling ministers to avoid any attempt to open up Iranian society and culture.

Tehran Friday Prayers leader Ayatollah Movahedi Kermani was blunt, “I warn both the Ministers of Culture and Science to avoid returning to the Reformist period in the fields of culture and morality.”

The leader of the Endurance Front, prominent in the campaign against President Rouhani, also spoke out. Ayatollah Mesbah Yazdi challenged the Government’s cultural policies, saying that today’s talk of “freedom2 follows the teachings of the West.

Mesbah Yazdi asserted, “We should break the ‘Freedom Idol’ so that we can step into the right path.”

Significantly, the warnings began to move into the nuclear arena, despite the Supreme Leader’s endorsement of negotiations with the 5+1 Powers (US, Britain, France, Germany, China, and Russia).

MP Hamid Rasaei directly criticized Foreign Minister Zarif and Iran’s team of negotiators, “Nuclear Energy is the milestone for Iranians. Our dignity depends on it and we should not be naive towards the 5+1 Powers.”

Another leading MP, Alireza Zakani, told State broadcaster IRIB, “Unfortunately Rouhani and the negotiation team cannot tolerate criticisms.”

Referring to a recent speech by the President hitting back at the pressure, Zakani said, “Rouhani did not start on a good foot by saying his critics are uneducated.”

He continued, “I’m worried about the talks but I think Zarif and his team are the ones that should be really worried, and I’d be surprised if they’re not.”

The Government did get some support on Friday. MP Ali Motahari said at the Tehran Book Fair that Rouhani’s critics have double standards: “While today they are criticising the (approach to) hejab and cultural situation and foreign policies, they stayed silent toward the clear mistakes of the previous (Ahmadinejad) government.”

Oil Minister Attacked for “Selling Natural Gas to Europe” Statement

The latest hardline attack on Oil Minister Bijan Namdar Zanganeh has come from Kayhan editor Hossein Shariatmadari, who has criticized the proposed sale of Iranian natural gas to Europe when sanctions end.

Shariatmadari wrote that the statement was “naive” and a betrayal of Russia, in its dispute with the US and the European Union over Ukrain:

A hard and heavy crisis is threatening Europe. There is not only no room for the slightest compassion, but to increase the scope and severity of the crisis is desirable, just like attacking a professional assassin to prevent further bloodshed.

Zanganeh, who reached out to Western investors while Oil Minister from 1997 to 2005, has been opposed by hardliners ever since his nomination last summer. They failed to prevent his approval by Parliament, but have continued to snipe at his plans.

Earlier this week, the outlet of the Revolutionary Guards, Fars News, implicitly challenged Zanganeh by writing that Iranian contractors were far preferable to foreign equivalents for development of Iran’s oil and gas fields.

See Revolutionary Guards Lash Out at Oil Minister over Foreign Investment

Hardliners Use New “Committee” for Public Rallies Against Rouhani’s Nuclear Approach

Hardliners have followed up last weekend’s unveiling of their “We Are Worried” campaign against the Rouhani Government’s handling of nuclear talks, rallying on Friday as the “Committee for the Preservation of Iran’s Interests”.

Gathering after Friday Prayers, demonstrators chanting slogans such as “Nuclear development is our absolute right!” and “No Compromise! No surrender! Battle with America!”

The rally’s organizers said Iran’s nuclear negotiators had acted with “haste” and “lack expertise”, accusing the Government of trying to silence criticism by referring to objections as acts of extremism.

Their statement also tried a new line of argument, saying that the Government’s approach would lead to less nuclear energy and more burning of fossil fuels in Iran. That, it claimed, would add to the dismal state of air quality in the country.

New Revolutionary Guards Tactic to Challenge Government Over Nuclear Talks

Fars News, the outlet of the Revolutionary Guards, tries a new tactic in its pressure on the Rouhani Government over the nuclear talks with the 5+1 Powers.

The website introduces commentary from the “conservative press” — but not other sections of Iran’s media — on the topic, days before discussions on a comprehensive agreement resume in Vienna.

While avoiding direct opposition to the talks, Fars features cautions by Kayhan (“The Iranian team of negotiators should not be deceived by the West’s plots”), Resalat (“The Iranian negotiators should move within the framework of the guidelines of Supreme Leader”), and other newspapers.

Leading Cleric Khatami: “If Zionists Take Wrong Step, Tel Aviv Will Be Razed”

Ayatollah Ahmad Khatami, a Tehran Friday Prayers leader, put out a symbolic message yesterday by appearing in Fordoo, the site of Iran’s second uranium enrichment plant.

Khatami did not reject nuclear talks, saying “the negotiations will continue based on the framework specified by the Supreme Leader”, even though they “will not be warm”.

However, he also issued a threat, “Our missiles are pointed to the sensitive centers of the occupying Zionist regime and if they take a wrong step, Tel Aviv will be razed.”