TEHRAN, Iran — Tensions over a possible nuclear deal between Iran and world powers were on display Sunday outside an atomic facility in Tehran where a rare protest saw hardliners criticize government negotiators.
While the crowd was small — about 200, mostly students, gathered at the entrance to the Tehran Research Reactor — the event was the first such officially approved demonstration in months.
It coincided with the penultimate day of talks in Vienna between Iran and the United States and other leading states about a permanent nuclear deal.
“Nuclear energy is our absolute right,” and “Sanctions won’t stop us,” read placards held by protesters, many of them suggesting there should be no compromise on Iran’s disputed atomic activities.
They chanted “Death to America” while a designated speaker rounded on the conduct of the year-long negotiations which entered their final 36 hours with a deal hanging in the balance.
Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani and Mohammad Javad Zarif, the foreign minister who is leading the talks in the Austrian capital, “do not know how to do diplomacy,” the speaker said.
One woman held a banner that said: “The centrifuges are not working, nor is the economy,” alluding to Rouhani’s pledge to restart talks with the West to help Iran’s sanctions-hit economy recover.
One demonstrator, a medical student who did not want to give her name, said she was “pessimistic about the Americans involved in the negotiations.”
“We want an agreement where if we give something we get something in return, and what we want is a total removal of sanctions,” she said.
Despite the protest back home, an Iranian source in Vienna signaled openness to extending the talks by six months or even up to a year.
Such an extension would be under terms of an interim deal reached in Geneva a year ago that traded a temporary freeze on some of Iran’s nuclear activities for limited sanctions relief, the source said.
“We are still focused on agreeing to a kind of political” understanding which would not be written but which would allow for negotiators to fine-tune technical aspects of the agreement later, the source said.
The five permanent members of the UN Security Council — Britain, China, France, Russia and United States plus Germany — the so-called P5+1 — have been locked in talks with Iran since February to turn the interim Geneva accord into a lasting agreement.
Such a deal is aimed at easing fears that Tehran could develop nuclear weapons under the guise of its civilian activities.
The Islamic republic denies it wants to build an atomic bomb and insists its nuclear program is entirely peaceful.