TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — Iran's president stepped up his challenge to the country's hard-line factions on Monday, calling for the lifting of restrictions on academic freedoms and for granting Iranian scholars more opportunity to take part in international conferences.
The message from Hassan Rouhani underscores the increasing friction between his moderate-leaning camp and entrenched forces such as hard-line student organizations that have questioned the scope of the new president's overtures to Washington.
Rouhani has pushed to break Iran's standoff with the international community over its contested nuclear program, the subject of renewed talks with world powers due to resume on Tuesday in Geneva.
Some Iranian hard-liners oppose any detente with the U.S., and on Monday made their voices heard by disrupting a speech by former president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani with shouts of "death to the U.S.", semiofficial news agency Mehr reported. Days earlier the elder statesman had urged Iranians to stop using the popular chant at rallies in order to aid Rouhani's outreach.
Hardliners have vowed to organize a major anti-U.S. rally to mark the anniversary of the storming of the U.S. embassy in Tehran in 1979 by militant students on Nov. 4
Rouhani's Monday call, broadcast on state television, points to potential deeper political fissures. Iran's top policymaker, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has endorsed Rouhani's outreach to the U.S., but some of the forces coming under the president's criticism also are controlled by Khamenei, who has final say on all state matters.
Rouhani, who took office in August, has previously called for lifting curbs on social media access and urged police not to crack down on perceived violations of Islamic dress codes for women.
"This is a shame for an administration that its students and professors are not able to express their viewpoints," Rouhani told Tehran University students and professors. "This administration will not tolerate factional pressures on universities."
He also urged authorities not to block scholars from taking part in international gatherings, calling it "scientific diplomacy."
"I urge all security apparatuses, including the intelligence ministry, to open the way for this diplomacy. Trust the universities," said Rouhani.
In recent years, many professors and student activists at Iranian universities were expelled or went into forced retirement under pressure from hard-line groups.
Rouhani also reiterated his promises for greater outreach to the world.
"We should have solidarity and peaceful co-existence with all friendly countries or even with all the world's nations," he told the gathering.
The Tehran Jewish Association, in a statement made available to The Associated Press on Monday, supported Rouhani's international outreach and urged President Barack Obama and other Western leaders to use the "golden opportunity" to seek better relations with Iran.
Iran and the United States broke ties after the storming of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran in the wake of the 1979 Islamic Revolution.
"If the U.S. and global community do not use this golden opportunity, which may not be repeated, then they have helped pessimists and enemies of normalization of ties between U.S. and Iran," said the statement.
Iran's 30,000-member Jewish community is the biggest in the Middle East outside Israel.