DUBAI Iranian President Hassan Rouhani called critics of his nuclear policy "cowards", state news agency IRNA reported on Monday, defending his stance to engage in talks with the West.
Iranian hardliners, unsettled by the shift to a more moderate foreign policy since Rouhani took office a year ago, have repeatedly knocked an interim deal with world powers under which Iran has curbed some nuclear work in exchange for limited sanctions relief.
"Some people deliver slogans but they are political cowards and as soon as there is talk of negotiations they say 'we are trembling,'" Rouhani said in his annual address to Iranian ambassadors and diplomats, according to IRNA.
"Well, to hell! Go and find a warm place for yourselves. What should we do? God has made you fearful and trembling," he added.
A group of conservative members of parliament and prominent political figures held a conference on May 3 to discuss their opposition to the nuclear deal which they see as capitulation to Iran's enemies, particularly the United States.
"It is wrong to fear from interaction, negotiation and mutual understanding?" Rouhani said, referring to on-going talks with world powers aimed at sealing a long-term nuclear deal.
Last year, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei called for "heroic flexibility," giving cautious support to the talks after many years of Iranian refusal to discuss any curbs on the nuclear work it says is for peaceful purposes but which Tehran's critics believe is aimed at developing weapons capability.
Six major powers and Iran failed to meet a July 20 deadline to negotiate a comprehensive nuclear agreement. The six - Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States - agreed to extend the deadline until Nov. 24.
The parties will probably discuss a potential deal on the sidelines of the annual U.N. General Assembly in September.
(Editing by Robin Pomeroy)