Middle East

Iran's presidential candidates spar over nuclear deal yield

A hard-line candidate challenged Iranian President Hassan Rouhani over the nuclear deal with world powers during a televised debate Friday, while the incumbent accused hard-liners of attempting to derail the accord.

The second of three debates before Iran's May 19 presidential election saw Rouhani accuse elements within Iran's Revolutionary Guard of trying to derail the deal with a missile launch.

Rouhani remains the favorite in the election as every Iranian president since Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei himself took the presidency in 1981 has won re-election.

However, hard-liners hope Ebrahim Raisi, appointed in 2016 by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei as head of Imam Reza charity foundation, which owns a huge business conglomerate and endowments across the country, can unseat Rouhani.

Raisi said the nuclear deal had not resulted in tangible benefits for ordinary Iranians. "Dear people! Our question is whether the wheels of economy are turning. Businessmen: are you able to do business?" he said.

For his part, Rouhani referred to a March 2016 ballistic missile launch by the paramilitary Guard in which the missile was marked with Hebrew graffiti reading "Israel must be wiped out." He said the act was intended to disrupt the deal.

Rouhani also said his rivals were hoping U.S. President Donald Trump would tear up the agreement.

"When Trump took office you all celebrated saying he would tear up the deal," he said.

Iran signed the 2015 nuclear deal with the U.S. and other world powers, which saw Iran accept curbs on its nuclear program in exchange for relief from crippling international sanctions.

Trump's administration appears to have taken an aggressive stance on Iran, disparaging the landmark deal and accusing Iran of fomenting violence and terrorism throughout the Middle East, charges that Iran denies.