On May 11, 2015, the medical school in Qom, Iran hosted a debate on the nuclear negotiations, on the suppression of civil rights in Iran, on views of the U.S. in Iran,and on the issue of the elimination of Israel. The debate, between Mojtaba Zolnoor, who is Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei's advisor in Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), and Prof. Sadegh Zibakalam of Tehran University ,who is affiliated with the reform movement and a supporter of the pragmatic camp led by Expediency Council head Hashemi Rafsanjani, largely reflected the power struggle between Iran's pragmatic and ideological camps.
In the debate, Zibakalam claimed that the ideological camp was using the slogan "nuclear program" along with hostility towards the U.S. as means to control the country, after appropriating Iran's Islamic Revolution from the pragmatists and the reformists. He said that the ideological camp was suppressing individual rights and the civil society that the Iranian people had attempted to gain by means of the Revolution. Addressing Supreme Leader Khamenei and the IRGC, Zibakalam said that the West's objections to Iran's nuclear program are not because the West is against Iran progressing, but because the West fears that the program will lead to Iran producing a nuclear bomb - especially in light of calls by Khamenei and the IRGC to eliminate Israel.
Zolnoor said in response that the nuclear program was vital to preserving the independence of Iran's Islamic regime against the West, which he says aims to remove this regime. He also stressed that the Koran authorizes Iran to eliminate Israel.
Zibakalam called for reconsidering continuing nuclear development in Iran because of its political cost - escalating tensions with Iran's Arab Sunni neighbors - and the direct and indirect economic cost, especially the sanctions and the damage done to the oil industry. He also stated that Iran's reformists were marginalized by the regime in every possible venue, in both politics and the media, and underlined that Rafsanjani's and President Hassan Rohani's determination to reach an agreement with the West despite the ideological camp's criticism of their nuclear policy was facilitating the first public discourse on whether the country's nuclear program truly benefits Iran.
Zolnoor (left) and Zibakalam (Source: Dana.ir, May 12, 2015)
Following are excerpts from the debate:
How The Nuclear Issue Is Exploited To Suppress Opposition To The Iranian Regime's Position
Zolnoor: "The Leader [Khamenei]said, 'I am not optimistic regarding the nuclear negotiations.' We should know that the nuclear [issue] is only one of the problems we have with the West; therefore, solving the nuclear issue will not end our problems with them. If we examine their words, [we will see that issues] like human rights, [Iran's] ballistic missile [program], peace in the Middle East, supporting terrorism, and many [other] issues [are more prominent] than the nuclear one.
"Our enemy breaks promises, is not bound by clear principles, and does not fear immoral acts like deception and beating around the bush. Therefore, Khamenei has said that he is not optimistic about these negotiations. In his election propaganda, President [Rohani] said that he aspires to implement a policy that will not set Iran in a position of challenging the world, and that will solve the problems and allow progress with both the centrifuges and the lives of the people. In his initial speeches after the elections, he also said that the people had voted for this [line of] thinking and for this change.
"In such an atmosphere, common sense dictates that Leader [Khamenei] will allow the people's representatives [to conduct] negotiations even if he himself does not believe in [the negotiations]. In his various speeches, he did not say 'I support the negotiations' but rather 'I support the negotiating team,' since the essence of both sides[i.e. both Iran and the West]is clear. The Leader supports the team that is negotiating with the enemy because without this protection, the negotiating team will be powerless against the enemy.
"At the same time, the Leader set red lines and used examples that are clear even to political laymen. He spoke of heroic flexibility, and compared it to mountain climbing, where in order to climb and find a better route, [climbers] are often forced to backtrack a mile with their back to the mountain, but later find a better path to scale the summit... Another time, the Leader said that the results of the negotiations, whatever they are, would serve Iran. The first option is that the sanctions will be removed, the red lines will be preserved, and the nuclear [program] will operate as normal. I will personally kiss the hands of whoever can achieve this... The second option is a negative result... The [Iranian] people's resentment of the enemy will increase, and the ground will be prepared to strengthen unity and empathy among the people. When the new generation, who has not seen the enemy's dark past, sees for itself that the enemy breaks promises and is greedy, [the West's] ability to spark schism [in Iran] will be lost."
Zibakalam: "The conflict, or Iran's nuclear issue, dates back to 2003, when Iran's nuclear program was revealed by the Mojahedeen-e Khalq. One of the main problems was that it was [forbidden to express] any opinion except for the regime's official position. The regime said it was good, [so] we said it was good too. The regime said that a nuclear program would lead to a scientific revolution, which is why the West opposed it. The regime said that the nuclear program would turn the Iranian economy around, so we said that too. It was impossible to express any dissenting opinion...
"In November 2013,[the Joint Plan of Action]between Iran and the West [was presented]. The most important event here was the breaking of a taboo. For the first time, several [circles] in Iran allowed themselves to take a clear stance regarding the nuclear program - and that is what they did. Some people whom we term 'the Concerned' [i.e. critics of the current regime's nuclear policy, that is, the ideological camp] gathered together and, for the first time, expressed views on the nuclear program that differed from those of the [government] officials. However, in my view, something very good happened here. An idol was shattered. Sanctity was removed from the national issue [i.e. the nuclear program], and friends who were depicted as 'concerned' cut off the branch on which they were sitting. Because if you can oppose the nuclear policy of the Rohani government, why can't you oppose the policy implemented during the term of [president Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad?"
[Zibakalam is interrupted by pro-Zolnoor hecklers.]
Zibakalam [continuing]: "The newspapers, the radio [waves], and the television [broadcasts] are yours [i.e. belong to the ideological camp], as are the Majlis members. In short, take everything, but just give us two hours to talk too. Can't you tolerate us speaking for even two hours?
"[The ideologues] are accustomed to taking everything for themselves. They have become accustomed to appropriating everything, even the martyrs and the [Iran-Iraq] war - while only 8% voted for you, that is, four million... Just remember, you are no more than 8%.
"The criticism raised by the Concerned [i.e. the ideological camp] caused a situation in which the nuclear issue was discussed with greater seriousness... The basic question after the  Geneva [Joint Plan of Action] was whether the nuclear issue could be used as a political tool. That is, did it include only political interests, or could we also benefit from it in both the political and the partisan sense? You have never seen Zarif and the [negotiating] team try to exploit [the nuclear issue] for political purposes. They did not permit themselves to do so. But the opposing side [i.e. the ideological camp] does."
Zolnoor: "Did you say 'radio and television are yours'?"
Zibakalam: "They are not yours. You have taken them by force and you think they are yours."
Zolnoor [mockingly]: "So tell me, how many days [did you spend] on the frontlines [of the Iran-Iraq war]? You also want to appropriate [everything] for your benefit. But this is not yours... How did you conclude that no one who voted for Rohani was conservative? How can we trust the judgment of you and those like you if in your opinion anyone who criticizes you represents a minority in society... You said that until 2013 no one had the right to say anything, and that the rise of the new government [i.e. Rohani's government] and the emergence of the Concerned [i.e. the ideological camp] prepared the ground for criticism in the state. However, there was criticism during the Ahmadinejad government as well. You said at Azad University in Karaj that Ahmadinejad indicated one use of nuclear energy and I told you that it has seven uses. Why are you saying that this path [of criticism] only opened up after the rise of the new government?"
Zibakalam: "I wasn't at the frontlines [of the war] at all, but I [also] did not trample those who were in order to rise to power... Since the nuclear conflict has escalated, the conservatives have touted two main reasons that the West objects to the Iranian nuclear program, since others have similar nuclear [programs] - for instance, Brazil, Argentina, and Turkey. But the question is, why did the West object, and why does it still object, to Iran's nuclear program? The answer that has been given since [the days of the Ahmadinejad government in] 2005 was that nuclear energy would give Iran scientific and economic might and that the West feared this, and that this is why it opposes this program...
"Don't other countries have nuclear programs? Why hasn't North Korea achieved thisprogress? Why hasn't it become a giant? Why haven't Pakistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Afghanistan, which also have nuclear programs, become scientific and economic giants? [The ideologues] used to say that the nuclear program would improve Iran's regional and international geopolitical standing. What I see is that this nuclear program did not improve [Iran's standing] but rather turned everyone against us. Our [Sunni Arab] neighbors, Europe, America - everyone became our enemies."
The Iranian Regime's Aspiration To Eliminate Israel
Zibaklam (con't): "The reason for the opposition to the Islamic Republic of Iran is that any country capable of enriching uranium will, within a short time and whenever it wishes, be able to increase this enrichment up to 90%, by means of which a nuclear bomb can be produced. Now, why do they have a problem with Iran? Because Iran is the only country that has officially and publicly announced that it wishes to eliminate Israel. Iran also declared this in its principled policy. No other country has stated that it wishes to eliminate a specific country. [Moreover,] this [policy] was expressed not only in declarations but also in deeds; Iran has given missiles [to Hizbullah, Islamic Jihad, and Hamas] and has aided them [in their fight against Israel].
"Who gave Iran the mission and the duty to eliminate Israel? Who gave it this duty? The constitution? The laws of the Majlis? A referendum? The UN? The EU? The [Organization] of the Islamic Conference? Or did the Muslims say, 'We can't eliminate Israel so you, Islamic Republic, have to eliminate it'?...
"Therefore, our conflict with the West does not stem from the West's desire to prevent [Iran] from progressing economically and scientifically.The essential problem, even today, and throughout all 44 rounds of negotiations, has been one of building trust. The Americans worry that Iran will attain a potential capability under which it will be able to assemble a nuclear bomb, should it want to someday.
"If they tell us to cut back the number [of centrifuges] and to decrease the 3%-enriched [uranium] from 10,000 tons to 300 kg - [it will only be because] all these dimensions include a potential for [producing nuclear] weapons. Now let us conduct a survey here in Qom to see how many people support eliminating Israel."
Zolnoor: "The debate here is not about what Ahmadinejad said or did not say. I myself am a critic of Ahmadinejad. I myself raised the issue of the 'Siamese twins' - Ahmadinejad and [his deputy and associate Rahim] Mashaei. [With regard to] your assumption that the nuclear program is of no benefit - why should the West give us permission to enter this field? It has nothing to do with [the West] at all. Iran will give up its independence and honor if it lets them [i.e. the West] make its decisions for it... As for your statements that the nuclear [program] only harms [Iran], do America and Israel want what's best for us or what's bad for us? If they wanted what's[bad] for us, and the nuclear [program] is harmful [as you say], they should have encouraged us [to develop it].
"As for the Zionist regime, this is a fundamental discussion: What is the nature of global Zionism? What is the role of the West and what is the status of the regime that is occupying Jerusalem [i.e. Israel]? Global Zionism has a trained dog, that is, the Zionist regime, which is our enemy. So we are its enemies too, and this is presented in the Koran... You said, 'Who says that Iran must oppose Israel?' The Koran says that we must prepare ourselves [for war]. They should not make decisions for us..."
Those Who Reject The Nuclear Deal With The U.S. Are Afraid The Banner Of Resistance Against America Will Be Taken From Them
Zibakalam:"As you know, there are some camps and some figures in Iran who are greatly concerned about the possibility of a nuclear deal with America, and who do not want this to happen. Yesterday they submitted a proposal to the Majlis [calling] for abandoning the negotiations.
"In Iran, there are some [circles, i.e. the ideological camp] whose position is identical to that of [elements] outside the country who want[Iran] eliminated. Some elements inside Iran are doing exactly what American radicals and [Israeli Prime Minister] Netanyahu are doing in their opposition to the nuclear deal. The question is, why are some elements in Iran so concerned that the nuclear issue might be resolved? The answer is that the nuclear [issue] is a tool they use for [promoting] an anti-U.S. approach, and they are concerned that the banner of resistance against America will be taken from them. Another logical question that arises is: If Iran and America can reach a deal on the nuclear issue after 10-12 years [of negotiations], during which [Iran] was several times on the verge of a military conflict with America, why shouldn't we also reach an agreement on the issues of Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria and other places?...
"What will we talk about if there is no more resistance against America? Will we talk about those in Iran who for the past 12 years have been thieving, or about the corruption and prostitution[in the country]? Of which achievements will we boast? If we pull the rug of resistance to America out from under certain [circles in Iran], what will they have left to say?"
The Fordo Facility Is 120 Meters Underground - It Will Be Possible To Enrich Uranium There
Zolnoor: "...According to the latest [U.S.] Congress decision, Obama will not be entitled to lift the sanctions for one month after a nuclear deal is signed. In other words, Iran must provide a blank check and pass a sincerity test. After that, Obama has the right to [either] meet the terms of the agreement, or not... Congress passed this, and blocked its president's path, and if the [nuclear conflict] is resolved at that time, they will lie to us and take away [our] nuclear infrastructure. [Iranian] Foreign Minister [Zarif] said that activity at Natanz will continue, but there are 19,000 centrifuges installed at Natanz, that will be cut back to 5,060 - that is, nothing will be left of Natanz. Secondly, we will be allowed to maintain [only] the first-generation centrifuges that we bought on the black market. Had we been allowed to use the [advanced] IR-8 centrifuges, with an enrichment capacity that is 20 times greater, there would have been no problem.
"As for Fordo, [both Iranian] Atomic Energy head [Ali Akbar Salehi and Foreign Minister] Zarif say that [Fordo's] activity is connected not to enrichment but to research. They said it would become a research facility. At Fordo, we went 120 meters underground, so that they would not be able to stop or sabotage our enrichment [efforts]. If we are to conduct research, we can conduct it at the aboveground facility in Karaj... The claims of some people [i.e. Zarif and Salehi] that Fordo's job is not to conduct enrichment are a lie.
"We have 1,000 remaining centrifuges; 500 are operating without the injection [of UF6]and another 500 must be taken off line. [As for] the heavy water facility [in Arak], these people [Zarif and Salehi] said that the West was surprised at the planning of our scientists, and that this is a source of pride for us, but in 2002 the foreigners presented this plan [i.e. for the Arak reactor] to us, while today all they want is to destroy it."
Should Iran Be Sacrificed For The Sake Of Its Nuclear Program?
Zibakalam:"Since neither the clerics nor the universities, nor anyone else, was allowed to express an opinion, the result is the confusion and anarchy we are witnessing today. Sadly, since the nuclear issue has become a tool in the service of the struggle against America, no permission has been given to voice [opinions] or to discuss important matters, such as issues of costs and benefits. When such an issue becomes sacred, opposing it comes to be [seen as] liberalism, as associated [with foreigners], and as conciliatory.
"Do we even know how much money has been wasted on the nuclear [program]? What was our aim at Fordo, Natanz, and Arak? Why did we act this way when we had no intention of developing a bomb [but only of developing] agriculture and nuclear medicine and enriching uranium to 3% for the Bushehr reactor? Now the question is: How much does every kilogram [of enriched uranium] cost us? What is its cost to agriculture? How much will it cost [in the long run]?
"Russia is one of the world's two or three nuclear powers, and for years it has been implementing a contract under which it imports 3%-enriched uranium from Australia, because that is cheaper [than producing it itself]. Let's set aside whether the cost [of enriching uranium] was considered. There's another question: Have we calculated the indirect cost of the sanctions imposed on us? Did we consider the extent of their damage to Iran's economy?
"Take for example the joint Iran-Qatar South Pars [natural gas field]. [The two countries] are supposed to benefit from it equally, but because of the sanctions, we have not been able to produce all [the gas] we are entitled to produce from it. In 2013, we produced only 50 billion cubic meters, [while] Qatar produced 150 [billion] and a bit more. The 100 billion [cubic meters more that Qatar produced] is because Qatar faces no sanctions, and the cost of this [to Iran] is $40 billion...
"I'm not saying that the nuclear [program] is bad; it's good. But at what cost? Now they will say 'Zibakalam said we don't need a nuclear [program]'... The political, partisan, and factional conduct on this [nuclear] issue must be resolved. Does the nuclear [program] exist for the sake of the state, or does the state exist for it? Must Iran be sacrificed for the sake of the nuclear [program], or should we sacrifice the nuclear [program] for the sake of Iran?"
Zolnoor: "...Were the sanctions imposed on us because of the nuclear issue?... Sanctions were imposed on us 24 years before [we launched] the nuclear [program]. Is all of this the cost of the nuclear [program]? [The Americans] have acknowledged [that they were behind the 1953]coup [against Iranian prime minister Mohammad] Mosaddegh, and their subversion, transferring arms to the opposition, [perpetrating] cyber[attacks] and downing an Iranian cargo plane [in the Iran-Iraq war]. Is all this because we said 'Death to America'? You have become the servants of America, like the Saudis, and you are backing it..."
Zibakalam: "Let me finish by saying that our problem is neither the nuclear issue nor [the negotiations in] Lausanne. Our problem is that there was a revolution here 36 years ago for a series of aims: for a civil society, for those seeking freedom, for political freedom, for the release of political prisoners, for freedom of expression, for elections, and for the rule of law. But for a number of reasons I did not want to mention here, all these [aims] were usurped after the revolution. Instead came resistance against America, and it was said that the [source of the] problem is not the nuclear program, but the resistance against America."
 Rasanews.ir, May 11, 2015.
 Referring to the number of votes cast for Saeed Jalili, the ideological camp's representative in the 2013 presidential elections, who was considered to be Khamenei's preferred candidate.