TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — An influential Iranian former president associated with a centrist branch of the clerical establishment has criticized world powers for their "bullying" and "dishonesty" in recent nuclear talks in Moscow, newspapers reported on Thursday.
The comments suggest that Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani and his allies, who support the broad lines of Iran's controversial nuclear program but are more open to compromise with the West than hardliners, are also frustrated by the lack of progress in negotiations.
"The talks proved that the Western side is (not interested) in interaction and they are not honest. They have based their policy on bullying alone," Rafsanjani was quoted by several Iranian dailies as telling a group of clerics. He also urged Iranian unity to thwart its enemies.
Two days of intensive nuclear talks in Moscow between Tehran and six world powers ended Tuesday, with both sides agreeing only to continue low-level talks in early July. The six —the permanent members of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany — want Iran to stop enriching uranium to a level that is just steps away from its use as the core of nuclear warheads.
Iran says it is enriching only to make reactor fuel or medical isotopes and insists it has a right to enrich under international law.
With neither side ready to accept what the other brought to the table in the form of inducements to compromise, diplomats familiar with the negotiations said they were in trouble from day one.
Along with recognition of the right to enrich, Iran seeks relief from growing U.N. and other sanctions, including spreading international embargoes on its oil sales. That is something the six are ready to grant only if Tehran agrees to enrichment suspension and related measures.
The 78-year-old Rafsanjani heads an advisory body to Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran's Supreme Leader, who has final say on all state matters.
Other Iranian officials have also blamed the West for the talks' failure. Allaeddin Boroujerdi, head of the powerful parliamentary committee on national security and foreign policy, told the official IRNA news agency that Tehran had faced "misbehavior." He did not elaborate.
State TV ran a commentary blaming the failure of the Moscow talks on the West's refusal to hold a round of preparatory technical discussions between experts beforehand. Iran says it repeatedly asked the West for these preparatory discussions, but says it received no answer.
The newscaster said the West hopes Iran will concede its "nuclear rights" to avoid tightening U.S. and EU sanctions. An EU embargo on Iranian crude starts July 1.
Ali Reza Khamesian, an analyst in Tehran, believes the lack of any outcome from the Moscow talks has convinced Rafsanjani that "the West is trying to pin Iran in the corner of the ring in heavy fighting." Khamesian says that Iran sees the talks as "fruitless" but will continue them to lessen "threats."
Iran's arch-foe Israel says Iran is stretching out the talks to move closer to the ability to make weapons, and it has threatened to attack the Islamic Republic as a last resort. Israel may argue that the negotiations are turning into "talks about talks" — something the U.S. and its allies have vowed they will not tolerate.
Earlier this month Khamenei warned any Israeli attack would be answered with a "lightning" response by the Islamic Republic and suggested Iran's nuclear program cannot be curtailed by Western sanctions.