Iranian President Hassan Rouhani found himself in a political firestorm Tuesday, the day after he denounced his hard-line critics as "political cowards" who oppose his efforts to reach an agreement with the West over the country's nuclear program.
Two hundred members of Iran's Parliament demanded that Rouhani meet with them behind closed doors to explain his speech, delivered to an annual meeting of Iranian ambassadors. In it, the president, known as a moderate, said the opponents of a nuclear deal were suffering from "negotiation-phobia" and suggested they go to hell.
"Once one talks about negotiations, they say we are trembling. To hell -- go find a warm place for yourself! God has made you cowards," he said.
The deputy speaker of Parliament, Mohsen Abutorabifard, was among those criticizing Rouhani on Tuesday, saying the president should avoid using such intemperate language. Even two reformist publications chided him, saying Rouhani shouldn't behave like his predecessor, the fiery conservative Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, by using "colloquial and inappropriate" words.
"One President Ahmadinejad is enough for Iran," said the Initiative newspaper.
With Rouhani's support, Iran and six world powers — the U.S., France, Britain, Germany, Russia and China — have been trying to work out a deal to rein in Iran's nuclear program and limit it to peaceful uses. The deal would reward Iran for limiting its nuclear activities by lifting sanctions that have hobbled its economy.
The seven nations failed to reach an agreement by a July 20 deadline, which they pushed back to November.
While Rouhani has expressed willingness to reach a deal, there have been indications that Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has laid roadblocks by limiting the degree to which the country's negotiators can compromise on the core issue of giving up nuclear capacity.
At the same time, hardliners in Iran's government have adamantly opposed a deal that would deprive Iran of the capacity to build a nuclear weapon.
Nader Karimi Juni, chief editor of the World of Industry newspaper, said the hardliners "are trying to create obstacles to reconciling with the West in general and the U.S.A. in particular." These obstacles, he said, include "arresting … foreign journalists, reviving stoning or ignoring human rights."