Ultra-hardliner candidate and former nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili on Friday defended his own record in nuclear negotiations while strongly criticizing President Hassan Rouhani's government for its diplomacy.

“I told the previous [Rouhani] government that there were actions they had to take to eliminate the maximum pressure strategy [by the US against the Islamic Republic], but some people in that administration didn’t agree … In Mr. Raisi’s administration, however, these strategies were implemented, and consequently, the enemy confessed to the futility of the maximum pressure strategy,” Jalili said in his first economic discussion aired on state television.

The Trump administration withdrew from the Obama-era JCPOA nuclear agreement in 2018 and imposed crippling sanctions on Iran. Oil exports plunged from a high of 2.2 million barrels a day in 2017 to less than 300,000 in 2019.

This plunged Iran into a deep recession and led to inflation rates persisting at 50% until now. Although the economic crisis is the most pressing issue for most voters, candidates have avoided addressing Iran's foreign policy and nuclear program that have led to isolation and sanctions.

Jalili meeting Cuba's Fidel Castro in 2005

Jalili, former Secretary of the Supreme National Security Council and nuclear negotiator under populist Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who formed a shadow government when Hassan Rouhani was elected president in 2013, has held the Rouhani administration responsible for the "doubling" of sanctions. He claimed that during Ebrahim Raisi's three-year presidency, Iran succeeded in increasing its oil exports.

“Constructive and extensive relations with the world are required for [improving] the economy. This happened during the tenure of Martyr Raisi. Now the US foreign secretary has to explain to the Senate why Iran can sell two million barrels of oil now,” he said.

Like other candidates, Jalili was accompanied by two economic advisers during his TV appearance. Three economic experts questioned the candidate and his advisers during the 45-minute program.

“Mr. Jalili’s foreign policy policies are a continuation of Dr. Raisi’s,” one of Jalili’s advisers, Deputy Foreign Minister Mehdi Safari, said while stressing that relations with neighboring countries, including economic relations, had improved during Raisi’s unfinished term of presidency. “Currently two-thirds of the red meat we need is imported from neighboring countries. Exports have increased and we have expanded the infrastructures,” he said. 

During the discussion, Jalili came under attack from one of the experts who questioned his performance as Iran's nuclear negotiator. Ebrahim Mottaghi, a professor of economy at Tehran University, said there was no progress in the nuclear talks when Jalili was responsible from 2007-2013, and the situation developed into several UN resolutions against Iran.

“What tangible achievements did you make during your tenure that you want to continue the same policy as announced previously?” he asked Jalili.

“We will have a more pronounced presence in equations with an increase in our power,” Jalili said in response. He argued that during the time referred to by Mottaghi, the United States had a strong presence in Iraq and Afghanistan which it could not keep due to the effectiveness of the policies that the Islamic Republic had adopted.

“[The US] could not implement the plans it had for us and this was the result of [our] planning … I believe in reducing threats and maximum use of opportunities as [a desired] outcome of foreign policy rather than mere trips and meetings with foreign [officials],” Jalili said.

“Why is the enemy and hostile media networks more sensitive about you than other candidates?” Foad Izadi, another expert on the panel who shares Jalili’s economic views, asked him. Jalili implied in his response that he was targeted, as the question suggested, because they expect him to succeed like Raisi allegedly did in defeating the maximum pressure strategy against the Islamic Republic. 

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