In a televised interview, Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani has responded to Washington’s pressure by trying to split European countries from the US.
Rouhani’s Tuesday appearance, his first interview since inauguration for a second term early this month, was devoted to a range of domestic and foreign policy issues. He projected hope, while generally alluding to the economic challenges facing Iran:
In domestic and foreign policies people feel more peace and, in general, there is more feeling of security in the society….
Our dear people must know that to increase employment, there is no way other than improving business atmosphere, unity and integrity and investment. We need to provide security for investment and invite all domestic and foreign investors, as well as Iranians residing overseas to return to the country.
His sharpest words were aimed at ongoing US sanctions, despite the implementation of the July 2015 nuclear agreement with the 5+1 Powers, with Congress adopting additional measures in late July. He directly encouraged European countries — not only Britain, Germany, and France of the 5+1 but also the other 25 members of the European Union — to defy the Trump Administration:
During the past decades, whenever the US wanted to form consensus against us, he has been able to do something against Iran with the help of the European Union and its friends and allies. But today, this is not possible for the US. Thus we can say that America is experiencing the hardest time and Iran is having the best conditions….
The 28 countries that form the EU are explicitly announcing that they are committed to the JCPOA [Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action]. The President of France announced yesterday that there is no way other than the nuclear agreement and the JCPOA. Therefore, we are in conditions today that we can be sure and we will continue along this path.
While Rouhani proclaimed that $13 billion of foreign investment has been attracted since the nuclear agreement, far more is needed to overcome years of declining productivity and employment because of sanctions and mismanagement. European companies are vital to that effort, but many have been cautious about links wit Iran because of the fear of US punishment.
Like the Supreme Leader, Rouhani tried to cover the difficulty with the claim that America is in a far weaker position:
The US is experiencing the hardest time and this is not just a slogan. In conditions that the US is threatening foreign banks, they are giving us $10 billion credit. Despite US threats, a European company [France’s Total] strikes a five-billion-dollar oil and gas contract with us….
The United States have a lot of issues inside, coupled with issues in the East and West Asia and even with the EU.
Rouhani again repeated the vague warning of counter-measures if the US continues to step up sanctions: “We will not be the first to violate the agreement, but at the same time, we will not stand still if the other side does.”
Asked to evaluate Donald Trump’s behavior, he responded: “This is a hard question. Americans themselves and their politicians cannot answer that. Even Mr Trump’s fellow Republicans cannot answer that.”
A Call to Repair Relations with Saudi Arabia
Despite the damage to his foreign policy of engagement caused by broken relations with Saudi Arabia, Rouhani tried once more to pursue the approach on Tuesday, “What we want is that if there is any issue between us, it must be resolved through dialogue.”
Saudi Arabia cut diplomatic links in January 2016 with Tehran, and the two countries, long-time rivals in the Middle East, are embroiled on opposite sides amid conflicts in Syria, Yemen, and Iraq.
But Rouhani seized on the return of Iranian pilgrims to Saudi Arabia for the Hajj, two years after 464 Iranians were among thousands killed in a crush near Mecca:
We believe that this pilgrimage is a good sign to see how we can resolve issues with Saudi Arabia. If our pilgrims come back satisfied and Saudi Arabia acts within the framework of religious and international regulations, I believe we would have better conditions to settle any issue.
Of course, our problem with Saudi Arabia is not only an Iran-Saudi issue, but rather Saudi Arabia’s intervention in Yemen and helping terrorist groups that we hope they have reached the understanding that this path does not work and they need to leave the Yemeni issue to the people of that country.
He framed other complex political, military, and economic disputes as a simple case of “terrorism”: “[This] is a threat to everyone and they must not help it. If these two issues [Yemen and terrorism are resolved, I think there are no major issues between us and Saudi Arabia.”