Reformist Challenges Iran’s Nuclear Program

July 13, 2012

On July 10, reformist politician Abdollah Nouri openly challenged the benefits of Iran’s controversial nuclear program. The comments were striking because Nouri, a cleric, was long a regime insider with close ties to revolutionary leader Ayatollah Khomeini. He also served twice as Interior Minister—from 1989 to 1993 under President Hashemi Rafsanjani and from 1997 to 1998 under President Mohammad Khatami. The interior ministry is one of the most powerful cabinet positions because it handles elections and internal security.

But in the 1990s, Nouri emerged as a leading critic of regime policies. He founded the Khordad newspaper, which advocated basic freedoms of expression and human rights. He was impeached by parliament and later tried for insulting Islam, including questioning the powers of Iran’s current Supreme Leader. In 1999, he became the senior most official to be sent to prison. He was sentenced to five years but was released early in 2002.

Nouri made his comments about Iran’s nuclear program to a group of student activists assembled at his home in Tehran. He suggested a national referendum on Iran’s disputed nuclear program. The remarks came shortly after a public poll posted by a state-controlled website (www.irinn.ir) revealed that 60 percent of Iranian respondents were in favor of suspending uranium enrichment, a key step for both peaceful nuclear energy and a weapons program. The poll was subsequently removed from the website. Here are key excerpts gathered from various news sources about Nouri’s address:

“It is quite obvious that we should have the right to pursue peaceful nuclear programs, but the question is whether it is worth sacrificing national interests for the sake of only one issue…

"Having peaceful nuclear energy is our undeniable right based on international laws. Yet we shouldn’t downplay difficulties in people’s lives and let one issue, however important, put all our national interests at risk. It is said that the latest oil sanctions have decreased national income by 25 per cent and it is quite obvious that such a decrease will gravely affect the economy and people's lives…
 
“It should be clear that, under such conditions, a large, populous country like Iran will be seriously hurt in terms of its infrastructure and other aspects of its development. Given the highly important role of the oil earnings in the national budget, Iran will experience very significant budget deficits. If that happens, every sector, from manufacturing, production and people's livelihood, to health, education, building infrastructure, and ultimately even defense and security will be hurt. Thus, if we can prevent the loss of billions of dollars and through expert planning save the national economy from bankruptcy and people's lives, why should we not do it?..
 
"We have repeatedly faced very complex and critical situations in the past, and to prevent further damage we changed our path; otherwise we would have suffered even more damage. Regarding the issue of the U.S. Embassy [hostage crisis], considering its consequences and damages, the decision was made to resolve the issue diplomatically. In the eight-year war [with Iraq], the patriotic slogans of were "War, war, until victory," "The road to Jerusalem passes through Karbala," and "War, war until elimination of the sedition." But when the experts said that continuing the war would inflict more damage than could ever be rectified, the end of the war and the acceptance of [U.N.] Resolution 598 were announced…
 
“Similarly, nowadays the damage and losses and pressure due to Iran's nuclear program have far exceeded any tolerable limit, and the government must make a wise decision to protect the vital interests of the nation and exit the present impasse. If we are to lose our other rights over our nuclear rights, which are our fundamental rights, we must rethink the principles and its consequences…
 
“The ill effects and pressure that Iran is bearing has passed the limits…To exit this dead end, the regime must make a rational decision that preserves national interests…
 
"With regard to the nuclear issue and finding the solution that best serves the country's interests in the current situation, we should ask the opinion of our experts, economists and politicians and all the commentators who wish good will for Iran…
 
"Our constitution considers referendum as a solution for such important and crucial issues. It is appropriate first for experts, regardless of factional affiliations, to talk to the people about the positive and negatives aspects of the continuation of the nuclear challenge with the West and the privileges and limitations that its continuation will bring. People should [then] make the final decision about the dispute between Iran and the West…
 
“It would therefore be wise to let the people decide in a referendum about the nuclear dispute between Iran and the world powers."