Rouhani: “Public sector, non-governmental institutions, and the armed forces must give up their businesses”


Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani has pointed to a showdown with the Revolutionary Guards, declaring that the elite military organization must give up its large stake if the economy is to be saved.

Rouhani issued the statement during a wide-ranging press conference on Tuesday, in which he tried to give reassurances amid a historic plunge in the currency, doubts over foreign trade and investment, and recent protests over political and economic issues.

Rouhani included his challenge to the Guards in the assertion, “All organs of the public sector must give up their businesses, including banks, and this is the way to save our economy. Public sector, non-governmental institutions and the armed forces must give up their businesses, because this is to the benefit of the people and themselves.”

The Guards have had an ever-growing stake in the economy since the 1990s, particularly through the activities of its Khatom al-Anbia engineering and logistics branch. During the Ahmadinejad Administration of 2005 to 2013, the Guards used the “privatization” of State concerns to buy large shares in companies across all sectors of Iranian industry, manufacturing, and utilities.

Critics says the Guards’ holdings have fed mismanagement, corruption, and distortions holding back Iranian recovery, including after the July 2015 nuclear deal. Last month the pressure finally led to a reported statement from the Supreme Leader’s office that the armed forces should reduce their holdings.

With economic problems compounded by US sanctions, Iran has struggled to confirm and implement large foreign trade and investment deals. Unemployment is continuing to rise, and the Iranian rial has plummeted in recent weeks. The currency reached an all-time low of about 4800:1 vs. the US dollar before rebounding slightly to its current level of 4660:1.

Rouhani insisted during the conference, “Foreign finance in Iran has increased compared to the past. Many instances of investment that require complicated technology are underway through cooperation with foreign companies.”

However, earlier this week Oil Minister Bijan Zanganeh admitted that threats of US sanctions have hindered completion of major contracts needed for development of Iran’s oil and gas fields.

See Iran Daily, Feb 5: Minister Worried Oil & Gas Contracts in Jeopardy Amid US Sanctions

Rouhani: People Were Also Protesting Social Issues

In another sign of his maneuvers against other regime factions, Rouhani said yesterday that they must recognize issues beyond the economy that fed the protests which spread across the country in late December and early January:

People have criticism and protest about economy, and it is correct; but their protest is not merely limited to economy, but it includes social and political issues, as well as foreign relations. We must be open to these criticisms and see what people want.

The Government has sent signals that it wants to loosen that requirement that women wear hijab in public. On Tuesday, Rouhani also pointed to an initiative to lift restrictions on communications, saying that Iranian youth must have access to the Internet in the 21st-century world.

The President reiterated:

Fortunately today, all the officials in the country accept the principle of protest, and I am very happy that everyone is saying that the voice of the people must be heard. This is a very happy day for all of us to hear the voices of the people and act according to their demands.

No Renegotiation of Nuclear Deal

Iran’s English-language State media avoid reference to Rouhani’s challenge to the Guards, instead focusing on his firm line over the nuclear deal and Tehran’s ballistic missile program.

With the Trump Administration imposing new sanctions and pressing for revision of the July 2015 agreement, Rouhani said:

We never regard other issues linked to the JCPOA [Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action]….The JCPOA is an international agreement….

It is meaningless to negotiate or discuss the JCPOA with anybody, whether the US and Europe or anyone else.

The other signatories of the agreement (UK, France, Germany, China, and Russia) have distanced themselves from Washington over renegotiation of the deal. However, European countries have called on Iran to work with them on a separate arrangement covering the development of testing of ballistic missiles.

Rouhani said that Iran will only produce “conventional weapons” needed for defensive purposes and will “hold no negotiations with anyone in this regard.”

France’s Total: Concerns Over $4.9 Billion Gas Project Amid US Sanctions

The CEO of France’s energy giant Total has expressed concern about the future of a $4.9 billion deal to develop a phase of Iran’s South Pars gas field, the largest in the world.

Patrick Pouyanne said the South Pars project is “progressing well, without delay, and we continue to work, even if the situation with the American Congress is rather vague”.

However, he cautioned that if the US “decides to exit the nuclear agreement and if secondary sanctions return in place” — sanctions that can be imposed on any European firm investing in Iran if it has an American element or uses American components —it would pose a “real question”.

The CEO said Total has been in discussions with French and European authorities about “means to protect investments already made in Iran, even in the case of the return of sanctions”. He said it is “up to European diplomats to consider these questions” about possible sanctions to “clarify the horizon for European business working in Iran”.

Iran Returns Seriously Ill 81-Year-Old Iranian-American Namazi to Prison

Iranian authorities have returned Iranian-American political prisoner Baquer Namazi to detention.

Namazi, a former UNICEF official, was given a medical furlough on Janaury 28 because of potentially fatal heart problems. However, authorities rebuffed a long-term medical parole and he was suddenly ordered back to Evin Prison in Tehran on Tuesday.

Namazi’s lawyer Jared Genser said the order overruled a recommendation by medical examiners, who said the political prisoner needed at least three months of leave.

Namazi was arrested in early 2016 as he visited Evin Prison to inquire about the status of his son Siamak, an Iranian-American oil executive who was seized the previous October. Both Namazi were given 10-year sentences in October 2016 on charges of collaborating with the US Government, and the prison terms were reaffirmed on appeal last November.

Baquer Namazi has been hospitalized at least four times over the past year, and doctors installed a pacemaker last September.

Iran continues to hold a number of dual nationals seized by the Revolutionary Guards. They include Anglo-Iranian charity worker Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, serving five years and threatened with a longer sentence; Iranian-Lebanese citizen and US permanent resident Nazar Zaka, sentenced to 10 years; Iranian-American Karan Vafadari and his wife Afarin Neyssari, art gallery owners in Tehran, given 27 and 16 years respectively; and Chinese-American historian Xiyue Wang, also punshed with 10 years.