TEHRAN — Iran’s president, Hassan Rouhani, reiterated his commitment in a key speech Saturday to the unique goals he set for himself when he took office of maintaining the Islamic republic’s nuclear activities while helping his country emerge from years of international isolation.
“Nuclear energy is our absolute right, yes, but the right to progress, development, improving people’s livelihood and welfare are also our rights,” Rouhani said, highlighting the challenges he inherited when he took office in August in his remarks, which were reported by state media.
At the time the prospects of an agreement over Iran’s contested nuclear activities seemed dim and inflation hovered near 40 percent.
“We need to strike the right balance between idealism and realism. There are those who want to close the gateways to this country. We know that is impossible,” Rouhani said, apparently referring to domestic and foreign opponents of the interim nuclear deal struck between Iran and global powers in Geneva, Switzerland last month.
Rouhani made the address at Shadid Beheshti University in Tehran, before a group of a 1,000 or more students. Various groups of attending students shouted slogans, demonstrating deep political divisions among Iran’s educated youth.
Some of the students reportedly called for the release of political prisoners, including Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karoubi, who led the 2009 post election opposition movement.
Hardline supporters of the regime, known as Basij, were also present and chanted “Death to America” along with other revolutionary mantras.
Dec. 7 is the annual observance of Students’ Day in Tehran, which commemorates the killing of three students at Tehran University in 1953 who were protesting an official visit by then U.S. Vice President, Richard Nixon.
The date is another reminder for Iranians of the long and complicated relationship between their country and the U.S., and is often marked by students protesting against what they consider American intervention in Iran’s domestic affairs.
“Today represents a historic day in Iran’s history, when pioneers and students stood against colonialism, despotism and foreign interference,” Rouhani said. “Indeed, in this land, students have always been pioneers in pursuing freedom and offering constructive criticism.”
Fueled by optimism after the eight-year presidency of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, which many here think was marred by economic mismanagement and overuse of the country’s security forces, Rouhani has managed to maintain a fragile peace between opposing political factions, something Ahmadinejad was never able to achieve.
“This government is committed to all its promises, but we need internal consensus. We need to be more tolerant, rational and avoid being too emotional,” Rouhani said.
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