Bolstering his position over nuclear discussion with the US and other powers, President Rouhani told Iran’s military this weekend to back off tough, threatening talk.
Covered by the Supreme Leader’s support, Rouhani declared in a speech to commanders, “A misfire could burst into flames and wreak havoc to everything.”
The Revolutionary Guards, who have been sceptical about “engagement” since the President’s election last summer, have been declaring that they will launch operations “with no boundaries” in response to any US attack. However, in recent days, they have been muted in their comments.
The nuclear discussions are proceeding, with the lead negotiator of the 5+1 Powers, Catherine Ashton, visiting Tehran this week and experts of the two sides holding technical talks. The high-level negotiation of a comprehensive agreement resumes in Vienna on March 18.
Rouhani has also flexed his political muscle in a confrontation with State broadcaster IRIB in recent weeks. However, he is being far more cautious over his campaign promises to open up political and cultural spheres, standing back amid recent suppression of the press.
The Supreme Leader was preoccupied last week with his declaration of a “resistance economy”. The statement, echoed by clerics and officials in following days, appears to be an attempt to cover up weakness while proclaiming strength — whether or not the nuclear talks succeed. Rouhani’s advisors have said the economy, while recovering, will still contract by 2% this year.
Tehran’s officials are also concerned about the border with Pakistan, following operations by the Sunni insurgency Jaish ul-Adl such as the abduction of five Iranian border guards. The Interior Minister and Speaker of Parliament both challenged Islamabad to act, as attempts failed to find and rescue the guards, taken by Jaish ul-Adl from southeastern Iran into Pakistan.
President Rouhani appears to be holding a strong position on the nuclear and economic fronts after the Supreme Leader’s agreement in January to endorse talks with the West, in return for a pull-back on efforts for political and cultural “openness”.
That position could erode with any break-down in talks, but so far the process appears to be steadily, albeit with a comprehensive nuclear deal still in the distance.
Meanwhile, the Rouhani Government will have to try and maintain economic stability. In a sign of its concern and intentions, the Government said last week that it will try and restrict support payments for subsidy cuts to Iranians below an income threshold. Declarations of agreements with foreign companies for investment in the energy sector appear to be more hope than reality at this point.