Iran’s presidential candidates have been taking turns participating in special 45-minute interviews with Iran’s Channel 2. After a short introduction, candidates sit with the host of the series, Hassan Abedini, to present their positions to the Iranian public.
Most interviews with the taciturn Abedini have been uneventful. The candidates would talk for long stretches unchallenged, mostly in general terms. Even bizarre moments like that when apparent frontrunner Saeed Jalili suggested that Iran offset some of the Western sanctions against Iran by investing in popsicle-stick factories went challenged.
However, former nuclear negotiator and presidential candidate Hassan Rouhani’s interview took a surprising turn in which he went on the offensive, even at point challenging Abedini directly. Rouhani defended his time as nuclear negotiator, criticized Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s presidency and the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB).
Rouhani, who is a member of the Assembly of Experts and the Expediency Council, presented himself as a “moderate” who has worked with all sides and has avoided extremism in his views. Rouhani is also close to Ayatollah Hashemi Rafsanjani. He was secretary of the Supreme National Security Council for 16 years and in charge of nuclear negotiations from 2003 to 2005.
In the first question regarding Rouhani’s time as nuclear negotiator, Abedini made a reference to P5+1 negotiations, to which Rouhani corrected him: “Mr. Abedini, don’t be mistaken in your question. My negotiations were with the EU-3, not P5+1.” Rouhani then explained the conditions which previous negotiations took place, saying, “What did America want to do? They wanted to send our case to the UN Security Council. They wanted what he had technologically to not be complete. We were after an opportunity to complete our technology.”
Rouhani said that when the three ministers of Europe were invited to Iran, they promised to veto America at the UN with respect to Iran’s nuclear program. He continued, “And this was during the era of Bush, when crazy neocons had attacked Afghanistan, occupied Iraq and everyone said that Iran is next. … During that era, we didn’t allow war. We didn’t allow our case to go to the Security Council.” Rouhani said of his era, “During that time, we started with ministers and then started negotiating with the presidents. This is what we should do today.”
Abedini then asked him about specific agreements and suspensions that took place in the nuclear program when Rouhani was in charge of negotiations. Rouhani responded, “What you said is a lie, you know it’s a lie. … This talk is what ignorant people say, you are versed in this.” Rouhani continued, rather excitedly and with a smile, “Maybe the person speaking to you in your earpiece doesn’t know, but you know.” After another challenge by Abedini, Rouahni responded, “It’s good for you to read history.” Rouahani then started listing Iran’s achievements during the era in question, incrementally raising his volume and emphasis with each achievement.
“We suspended the program?” Rouhani asked rhetorically. “We completed the program. This is unethical behavior of the IRIB that has gotten into you. And the person who is speaking into your earpiece, this unethical behavior has gotten into him too.” Abedini then interrupted him: “I have read your book from beginning to end twice.” To this, Rouhani responded, “Well done, please read it a third time.”
Of Iran’s IRIB state TV, which technically operates under the administration but is generally believed to controlled by or at least close to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Rouhani said, “I wish there were justice at IRIB. I wish there were constructive criticism, which we would be thankful for. But if someone is attacked and accused on IRIB, for them not to have to call the head of the IRIB and see if he has permission to go on or not. It would be good if someone was attacked one night and the next morning they would be invited and have the opportunity to speak too. Many prominent figures, many people who have been lashed with a whip in the Shah’s government, many people who were close to Ayatollah Khomeini, have been insulted on IRIB. Unfortunately, IRIB has not acted justly. … Mr. Abedini, tell the head of your organization that those who have been insulted once in a while, and sometimes some have been insulted a lot, give them time, allow them to defend themselves. It won’t hurt. Don’t waste the capital of the revolution.”
Rouhani also attacked Ahamdinejad’s trip to New York for the UN General Assembly, on which he took many family members and reporters with him. “Do you know what justice is, Mr. Abedini?” Rouhani asked. “It means when an official gets into a plane to go to another country, he doesn’t fill the plane with his wife, children and reporters. He should take entrepreneurs. We should learn from Turkey. Wherever their prime minister goes, he takes 100 to 200 entrepreneurs with him.”
Rouhani talked about the instability in the country and the effect it has on unemployment. “We have 3,300,000 unemployed. … Let’s assume it’s three million. If these people are put to work and their output is one million [toman] each [per month], that’s 3,000 billion toman [$2.8 billion]. And the people remember this figure well.” In September of 2011, it was revealed that 3,000 billion toman was embezzled through private and state-owned banks. Some accused Ahmadinejad of having a hand in the embezzlement, although no one directly connected to him was tried.
Rouhani continued, “Because of the embezzlement, the people remember this 3,000 billion. It wasn’t just that embezzlement, which had its day in court. I think it in the court of the people’s conscience. Many should be tried because they haven’t done anything for these three million unemployed. Which family today doesn’t have someone who isn’t unemployed? If the administration had a plan, this couldn’t be solved?”
“Our 20-year outlook was that our rate of growth would be at least eight percent; now it is at three percent, on average. … Which country in our region has a 30% inflation rate? Saudi Arabia has an inflation of 2.9%, and our inflation is above 30% and in certain areas above 40%. Food products in the last 12 months saw an inflation rate of 58%. Why? Because there is no growth in production.” Rouhani then went on to list the number of unemployed college graduates in Iran in different fields.