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In Second Iranian Presidential Debate, Conservatives Accuse Rohani Of Failing To Cash In On Nuclear Deal

  • Golnaz Esfandiari

The six approved candidates in Iran's presidential election came together in Tehran on May 5 for the second of three live debates on state TV.

Iranian President Hassan Rohani came under criticism from his main conservative rivals during a live televised presidential election debate on May 5 -- a debate focusing on politics and culture.

Rohani's rivals accused him of failing to improve Iran's economy in the aftermath of Tehran's 2015 nuclear deal with six world powers, under which Iran significantly limited its nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief.

Hard-line conservative cleric Ebrahim Raisi said the nuclear deal has failed to translate into improved living standards for the Iranian people.

"This deal was like a check that the government has been unable to cash," Raisi said.

Raisi also accused Rohani’s government of demonstrating weakness during negotiations with world powers.

"Saying that if we don’t sign the agreement, the other side will take action and attack our nuclear sites [was] a very bad message for the talks," Raisi said.

Despite the criticism, Raisi said that he would remain committed to the nuclear deal if he is elected president.

RELIVE THE DEBATE: We Live-Blogged The Proceedings

Tehran’s Mayor Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf also said Iranians have not benefited from the nuclear deal.

He also accused Rohani’s government of relying heavily on foreign investment while ignoring national resources.

Qalibaf, who is running for president for the third time, has said he will safeguard the nuclear agreement, if elected.

Rohani, who came to power in 2013, defended his record while accusing conservatives of trying to sabotage the nuclear deal and undermine the country’s nuclear negotiators.

"If the [nuclear deal] is an accepted agreement, then why did you raise billboards in Tehran [that were critical of the deal]? Why did you insult those who were negotiating?” Rohani asked.

The Iranian president also criticized the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) for conducting provocative missile tests and scrawling anti-Israeli slogans on the missiles before launching them.

"We saw how they wrote slogans on missiles and showed underground [missile] cities to disrupt the nuclear deal," Rohani said.

Rohani said his conservative rivals were happy about the election of U.S. President Donald Trump because they thought he would tear up the nuclear deal.

Rohani said all the presidential candidates should announce their stances on the nuclear deal and also how they would interact with the world if they are elected.

Rohani's vice president, Eshaq Jahangiri, who is also a presidential candidate, described the deal as one of Iran’s greatest achievements and said that people’s lives have indeed improved as a result.

Jahangiri is thought to be running to stand by Rohani in the face of attacks by his rivals.

He said those who criticized Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif during the nuclear talks with the United States and other world powers are now taking "souvenir photos" with the deal.

Raisi and Qalibaf have vowed to create jobs, if elected.

The other conservative candidate, former Minister of Culture Mostafa Mirsalim, was also critical of Rohani during the debate, while moderate former Vice President Mostafa Hashemitaba defended the government.

During the first presidential election debate on April 28, Qalibaf accused Rohani of mismanagement and of supporting rich Iranians at the expense of the poor.

The third and final debate of the campaign is scheduled for May 12. It will focus on economic issues.

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    Golnaz Esfandiari

    Golnaz Esfandiari is a senior correspondent with Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. She can be reached at EsfandiariG@rferl.org

     

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