Zarif gets support in snap vote over nuclear talks
TEHRAN - Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif was backed in a hastily convened vote Tuesday over his handling of long-running nuclear talks, after he was heavily criticised in a stormy parliamentary session.
Zarif, who is leading Iran's negotiations with world powers aimed at ending international concern over Tehran's nuclear programme, was answering questions from lawmakers when he came under fire.
Barely half the 229 lawmakers present supported him in a vote ordered after a hardline conservative MP said he was "not convinced" by Zarif's answers.
Some 125 lawmakers backed Zarif but 86 voted against him, eight recorded no preference and 10 abstained.
The vote was not a formal confidence motion with defined repercussions, but it would have undoubtedly undermined his credibility had he lost.
Zarif's main critic was lawmaker Javad Karimi Ghoddoussi, who accused the minister of making too many concessions in recent talks in Switzerland.
Ghoddoussi also accused Zarif of spending too much time speaking to the United States and not enough with other members of the P5+1 bloc -- which also includes Britain, China, France, Russia and Germany -- in the talks.
Zarif hit back and said the negotiations had changed Iran's image abroad, reversing the view that the Islamic republic was "threatening and dangerous for world security".
"Today the world is watching Iran as a powerful and logical actor that cannot be set aside or ignored," Zarif said.
"Large countries and large corporations are lining up at our door," he said.
President Hassan Rouhani on Sunday reiterated his aim that Iran will open up to foreign investment if a final nuclear deal can be signed this summer.
Iran has demanded that any final agreement lift international sanctions that have crippled its economy in recent years. The country's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, will have the final say on any deal.
The nuclear talks resume in Geneva on January 15, under a timeline that aims to seal a broad political agreement in March with the fine details of a comprehensive accord hammered out by June 30.
Under a preliminary deal in force since January 2014 Iran limited its enrichment of uranium, a process that creates fuel for atomic energy but which at high levels of purity can produce fissile material for a nuclear weapon.
Iran denies seeking a nuclear weapon, insisting its atomic programme is for peaceful energy purposes.