Iran hard-liners join team of nuclear negotiators

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Associated Press

Posted on January 1, 2014 at 4:32 AM

Updated Wednesday, Jan 1 at 7:33 AM

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — Iran has boosted its team in charge of nuclear talks with world powers, adding what are believed to be hard-liners and conservatives in an apparent effort to silence critics of the landmark interim accord reached in Geneva in November.

The semi-official news agencies Fars and Mehr reported on Wednesday that new members have joined the high council, which directs strategies in the talks and which is led by the country's moderate President Hassan Rouhani and Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif.

The agencies did not identify the new members, saying only that representatives of "all branches of power and other senior figures" are now on the council.

The development comes a day after Iran and Western negotiators reported they were nearing an understanding on the details of implementing the Geneva accord.

The deal puts strong limits on Iran's uranium enrichment program in return for an easing of some international sanctions on Tehran for six months while a permanent deal is negotiated. The United States and its allies believe Iran's nuclear program is aimed at producing a nuclear weapon, a claim that Tehran denies, saying it is intended only for peaceful purposes.

Over the past month, experts from Iran and the so-called "5+1" countries — the U.S., Britain, France, Russia, China and Germany — have held several rounds of talks in Geneva to work out details on carrying out the agreement. The most recent session was on Monday, and on Tuesday, both sides reported progress in the talks.

Rouhani has faced criticism from hard-liners at home over the Geneva deal, with many claiming the contents of the talks were kept secret and that they were excluded from the process. Some have called it a "poison chalice" for Iran.

Zarif has defended the process, saying Iran's top leadership had approved the Geneva deal in its entirety ahead of the signing but that the secrecy on the content was necessary to ensure the talks would not be derailed.

"The team advising on nuclear negotiations will be strengthened for the next round of talks," prominent hard-line lawmaker Ismaeil Kowsari was quoted by Mehr as saying. "Things were not in our favor in the previous round, as they should have been."

Iranian hard-liners believe Tehran has offered too many concessions in return for too little in the Geneva deal. But Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has the final say on all state matters, has backed the nuclear negotiating team, even calling its members "sons of the Revolution."

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