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Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Candidate for Iran’s Presidency Defends Record as Nuclear Negotiator

The brief campaign ahead of next month’s presidential election in Iran might lack the passion of 2009, when rallies in support of opposition candidates set the stage for the mass protests that followed the vote, but one of the candidates injected some passion into the race on Monday when he showed a flash of anger anger during an interview on state television.

The candidate, Hassan Rouhani, is a moderate cleric who served as an Iranian nuclear negotiator during the presidency of the reformist Mohammad Khatami. When he was challenged on his record during that period by the state television interviewer, Hassan Abedini, Mr. Rouhani reacted with indignation.

An excerpt from an interview with Hassan Rouhani, a presidential candidate, broadcast on Iranian state television on Monday.

An interview excerpt posted on a YouTube channel set up in support of Mr. Rouhani’s campaign shows that the candidate first accused the host of lying â€" by suggesting that Iran’s nuclear program had been suspended as a result of his work â€" and then criticized the state-run television channel, Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting, or IRIB, more broadly.

As the blogger Arash Karami explained in a detailed post on the interview, Mr. Rouhani said that his work from 2003 to 2005 was “during the era of Bush, when crazy neocons had attacked Afghanistan, occupied Iraq and everyone said that Iran is next.”

When Mr. Abedini said that Iran’s nuclear work had halted as a result of the negotiations the candidate took part in, Mr. Rouhani interrupted to say: “What you said is a lie, you know it’s a lie. This talk is what ignorant people say, you are versed in this.” He added: “Maybe the person speaking to you in your earpiece doesn’t know, but you know.”

After he was pressed further by the host, Mr. Rouhani said, according to Mr. Karami’s translation: “We suspended the program? 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.”

The clash came in the context of Mr. Rouhani’s effort to defeat a more prominent candidate, Saeed Jalili, Iran’s current nuclear negotiator who has made his hardline stance a centerpiece of his campaign.

In a series of messages posted on Twitter after the interview was broadcast, Mr. Jalili’s campaign pursued the argument that three agreements struck during Mr. Rouhani’s period in charge, which were mentioned by Mr. Abedini, did effectively force Iran to suspend its nuclear program.

Later in the interview, Mr. Rouhani â€" whose campaign is supported by Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, a former president who was barred from running this year â€" pressed his attack on the broadcaster further, saying (in Mr. Karami’s translation):

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.

A Twitter feed in support of Mr. Rouhani’s campaign explained that the candidate was referring to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s fierce attacks on leaders of the opposition during the last election campaign.

As my colleague Robert Worth reported from Tehran in 2009, during an extraordinary televised debate on the eve of the last election Mr. Ahmadinejad accused Mr. Rafsanjani of stealing billions of dollars of state money and called him ‘the main puppet master’ behind the campaign against him.

Monday’s interview was one of a series of generally bland discussions on state television with each of the eight candidates approved to run. Press TV, Iran’s state-run, English-language satellite channel, ignored the contentious portion of Mr. Rouhani’s interview, choosing to highlight instead his dry remarks on the management of Iran’s economy.

A video excerpt from the Iranian presidential candidate Hassan Rouhani’s interview on state television posted online by Press TV, a government-owned satellite channel.

Robert Mackey also remixes the news on Twitter @robertmackey.