Video exposes division among Iran officials in nuclear talks

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — Amid a new round of Iran nuclear talks, Iranians have been captivated this week by a leaked video showing a vehement argument between a hard-line lawmaker and the country’s foreign minister.

Differing statements from Iranian officials over what’s acceptable for Tehran at the talks with six world powers have accompanied the negotiations since the start of international attempts nearly a decade ago to reach a diplomatic solution over Iran’s contested nuclear program. Hard-liners fear that negotiators are betraying Iran’s interests by being too conciliatory, while moderates chastise their opponents for jeopardizing the talks with unrealistic demands.

But Iranians usually are not privy to the kind of bitter recriminations that a video posted on social media Monday has revealed. It shows Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and hard-line lawmaker Mahdi Kouchakzadeh in a heated exchange, apparently at the end of a closed session of parliament.

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei “calls you a traitor,” Kouchakzadeh says. “I say this from his tongue.”

But Zarif, his face red with anger, berates the lawmaker for daring to speak for Khamenei.

“You are damned dead wrong,” he declares.

The footage appears to have been filmed with a mobile phone and leaked by a lawmaker. Several legislators are demanding that the incident be investigated and the leaker be prosecuted.

The video was posted with the talks moving closer to what is supposed to be an end of June deadline for a deal. As they resumed Wednesday in Vienna, Khamenei indirectly backed Zarif, who has been Iran’s lead negotiator at previous sessions and is expected to rejoin the negotiators at a later stage.

Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi is leading his country’s delegation at the present round, which also brings U.S. Undersecretary of State Wendy Sherman and officials representing Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany to the table.

As he prepared to join the talks, Araghchi said a deal could be sealed even before the June target date. At the same time, he told Iranian state television the negotiations could be extended.

“We are not constrained by time,” he said. “We are obliged to reach a good deal with all the ideal details. It does not matter how long it takes.”

The proposed deal would freeze Iran’s nuclear program for a decade, in return for sanctions relief. Iran insists that its nuclear program is solely for peaceful purposes, while the West fears it could allow it to build nuclear weapons.

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Jahn reported from Vienna.

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