Marc Jourdier – Informed Comment https://www.juancole.com Thoughts on the Middle East, History and Religion Thu, 12 Jul 2018 02:20:21 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=5.7.8 Sudden Shift in Iran as Hardliners back Centrist President Rouhani https://www.juancole.com/2018/07/hardliners-centrist-president.html Fri, 06 Jul 2018 04:37:50 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=176874 Tehran (AFP) – Frequently a target of attack by hardliners, Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani is benefiting from a sudden surge in support from his former critics, a week after he called for national unity.

The apparent sea-change in conservative rhetoric follows hawkish comments by the president himself following Washington’s unilateral May withdrawal from a landmark 2015 nuclear deal.

Visiting Europe to seek economic guarantees, Rouhani lashed out at Israel in the Swiss capital Bern on Tuesday, saying Iran “sees the Zionist regime as an illegitimate regime”.

And he has questioned the American government’s ability to make good on threats to prevent other countries buying Tehran’s oil.

The latest evidence of the domestic shift came on Wednesday, in a letter by prominent General Qassem Soleimani to the moderately conservative president.

Soleimani — head of the elite Revolutionary Guards’ foreign operations — thanks the president for his “wise and appropriate” words on Israel and the US, in the letter published by Fars news agency.

Rouhani’s remarks were “a source of pride”, wrote the general.

– ‘Meeting in the Strait’ –

Rouhani is the main Iranian architect of the July 2015 nuclear accord with world powers, under which his country agreed to rein in its nuclear programme in exchange for easing multilateral sanctions which had strangled the economy.

Some Iranians have interpreted Rouhani’s recent hawkish comments as meaning he could be open to blocking the Strait of Hormuz — a threat Tehran has brandished during past bouts of regional tension.

Some 30 percent of all the world’s sea-borne oil exports pass through the strait, which runs from the Gulf into the Indian Ocean.

Conservative Iranian media outlets have thrown their weight behind Rouhani.

“Meeting in the Strait” read a headline in Javan — a daily close to the Revolutionary Guards — along with a picture of the president and General Soleimani shaking hands in front of a map of the Strait of Hormuz.

A photo of Soleimani was splashed across the front page of Sazandegi newspaper with the headline “Unity Sepah-Government” (Sepah is the Farsi acronym for the Revolutionary Guards).

Rouhani, who has sought to open up various economic sectors to private enterprise, has repeatedly criticised the Revolutionary Guards for exerting too tight a grip on Iran’s economy.

Since he first took office in 2013, Rouhani has regularly been attacked by ultra-conservatives.

He was elected for a second four-year term in May 2017, with the support of reformers.

After protests around the New Year in many Iranian cities against economic hardship, they accused Rouhani of abandoning the country’s weakest citizens.

Some have held up America’s withdrawal from the nuclear agreement as proof of the president’s naivety in trusting the West.

– ‘Survival of the nation’ –

As Iran’s rial plunged in value and protests re-ignited, some legislators called in late June for Rouhani to be impeached.

But things changed abruptly after June 27 when he appealed to his opponents for help.

Kayhan is another ultra-conservative newspaper now backing the president.

“We must put to one side our differences because, at present, the national interest and the survival of the nation are at stake,” said an editorial.

But Javan signalled the truce may only be temporary.

“Resisting the enemy and preserving the nation’s independence require us to be together and put our differences to one side until a later date”, wrote editor-in-chief Abdollah Ganji.

Featured Photo: AFP / ALEX HALADA. Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani speaks during a joint press conference with Austria’s Chancellor Sebastian Kurz on July 4, 2018 in Vienna.

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Pressuring Europe over Trump, Iran will Build New Centrifuges for Enriching Uranium https://www.juancole.com/2018/06/pressuring-centrifuges-enriching.html Tue, 05 Jun 2018 13:18:22 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=176083 Tehran (AFP) – Iran said Tuesday it has launched a plan to boost uranium enrichment capacity with new centrifuges, raising the pressure on European diplomats scrambling to rescue the crumbling nuclear deal after Washington pulled out.

“If conditions allow, maybe tomorrow night at Natanz, we can announce the opening of the centre for production of new centrifuges,” said Vice-President Ali Akbar Salehi, head of the Iranian Atomic Energy Organisation, according to conservative news agency Fars.

“What we are doing does not violate the (2015 nuclear) agreement,” he said, adding that a letter was submitted to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) “yesterday regarding the start of certain activities”.

He specified this was just the start of the production process and “does not mean that we will start assembling the centrifuges”.

Under the 2015 nuclear agreement that Iran signed with world powers, it can build and test parts for advanced centrifuges, but specific restrictions exist on what technology can be researched and in what quantity within the first decade of the deal.

Salehi also emphasised that these moves “do not mean the negotiations (with Europe) have failed.”

European governments have been trying to salvage the nuclear deal ever since the United States announced its withdrawal last month and said it would reimpose sanctions on foreign companies working in the Islamic republic by November.

The remaining parties — Britain, France, Germany, China and Russia — have vowed to stay in the accord but many of their companies have already started to wind down Iranian operations.

On Monday, Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei warned the Europeans that “Iran will never tolerate both suffering from sanctions and nuclear restrictions” and called for preparations to speed up uranium enrichment.

Iran insists its nuclear programme is for civilian uses only, but opponents in the US, Israel and Saudi Arabia accuse it of seeking to build an atomic bomb.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reacted swiftly to Salehi’s announcement, charging that the Islamic republic’s aim was “unlimited enrichment of uranium to create an arsenal of nuclear bombs” to destroy his country.

Under the 2015 agreement, Iran is permitted to enrich uranium to 3.67 percent.

It has previously stated it could “within days” return to enrichment of 20 percent — still within the limits of civilian use but allowing for a much quicker jump to military-grade levels of 80-90 percent.

– Businesses leaving –

Keen to preserve the nuclear deal — with which Iran has so far been fully compliant according to international inspectors — European governments are working on measures to protect their businesses from US sanctions.

But Iran had already been denied much of the economic benefits it had hoped for from the deal, thanks to the continued reluctance of international banks to facilitate trade and a raft of non-nuclear US sanctions that were never lifted.

With the US pulling out of the deal entirely, several large firms have said it will be impossible to continue operating in Iran except in the unlikely scenario that they win bulletproof exemptions from Washington.

France’s PSA, which manufactures Peugeot and Citroen cars, on Monday became the latest to announce its plans to pull out of Iran, where it sold nearly 445,000 cars last year.

French energy giant Total is also preparing its departure from a $4.8-billion gas project in Iran, with its CEO saying last week that the chances of a US exemption were “very slim”.

Featured Photo: IRNA/AFP/File / Kazem GHANE. An International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspector in January 2014 disconnects cascades for 20 percent uranium production at the nuclear power plant of Natanz, some 300 kilometres south of Tehran.

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