More than 80 members of the Iranian parliament have lashed out at President Hassan Rouhani on Tuesday for suggesting that he was ready to hold talks with U.S. President Donald Trump.
At the same time Iranian media outlets close to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and the revolutionary Guards IRGC harshly criticized Rouhani for saying on Monday that he wouldn't mind negotiating if it served the Islamic Republic's interests.
The lawmakers issued an official warning to Rouhani for "taking stances contrary to those of the Supreme Leader." Khamenei has prohibited negotiations with the United States while also voicing his distrust of Europe.
"Why are you planning to meet and hold talks with an individual you have called insane?" the lawmakers Asked Rouhani, reminding him that "The Supreme Leader has said negotiating with the U.S. would be a lethal poison" for the Islamic regime.
Some of the signatories of the warning to Rouhani are members of the ultraconservative Paydari [Steadfastness] Front that once supported former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
However, Rouhani appears to have changed his position since Monday, even before parliament's warning.
He said Tuesday morning that "anyone who wants to have his picture taken with Hassan Rouhani should first lift all the oppressive sanctions imposed on Iran." This was a U-turn from his previous positions.
The hardliner Kayhan newspaper, whose editor-in-chief Hossein Shariatmadari is appointed by Khamenei, warned in an editorial penned by Shariatmadari himself that any Rouhani negotiation with Trump will be "damaging and catastrophic" as well as "merely being a gift to Trump ahead of the U.S. presidential race."
The Kayhan's front-page banner Tuesday morning read: "Mr. Rouhani! The Country will be developed with hard work not with meeting this and that person."
The IRGC's organ, Javan newspaper, carried an unusually large headline on its front-page which read: "Mr. Rouhani! The country will not be developed with photo diplomacy."
Meanwhile, in a commentary by Mohammad Javad Akhavan, Javan lashed out at Rouhani and questioned his administration's performance during the past six years, while also criticizing him for suggesting a face to face meeting with President Trump.
The commentary advised that Rouhani should try to make up for his past mistakes rather than attempting to repeat the same mistakes over and over.
Rouhani's apparent change of position within a day does not come as a surprise. The behaviour of both Rouhani and his hardliner political rivals is reminiscent of their performance in 2014 and 2015 ahead of the nuclear deal with world powers.
At that time, top officials including Rouhani, Khamenei, Zarif and Majles Speaker Larijani knew that they were going to come to an agreement with the West including the United States and still they let their rivals and allies in parliament and within the ranks of the IRGC voice their criticism.
While dissent is mercilessly crushed in Iran, it is hard to see how anyone could criticize the leadership on such a crucial issue, unless it was a useful tactic for a variety of reasons.
First, it created the illusion of democracy in Iran. Second, it tried to show the West it was very hard for Iran’s negotiators to make the nation accept the agreement.
The Islamic Republic probably believes the formula worked in 2015 and hopes it will work again in 2019.