Less than 24 hours after Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s return to Tehran from New York, where he addressed the UN General Assembly meeting Sept. 22 for the fourth time, he was strictly reprimanded by Hojat al-Islam Ali Saidi and advised to refrain from developing any further relations with the United States outside the framework of the nuclear deal, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). Saidi is not just any hojat al-Islam, a Shiite clerical rank just below that of ayatollah, but the supreme leader’s representative to the powerful Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC).
In an interview with the IRGC-linked Fars News Agency on Sept. 24, Saidi said, “Under the cover of the JCPOA, the country’s government was pursuing the straightening out of relations with the United States. The Americans’ intention with the negotiations was also beyond solving the nuclear issue, but the supreme leader prevented the Americans from gaining more points.”
These comments come only days after Rouhani welcomed American companies at a Sept. 22 news conference in New York, where he said, “The nuclear deal has paved the ground for all foreign investors and companies to invest in Iran.”
This is not the first time Rouhani has tried to build on the July 2015 nuclear deal. In February, he announced his government’s economic plans for a “second JCPOA” that would include international “reconciliation.” That statement did not please the supreme leader, either.
In the Sept. 24 interview with Fars News, Saidi specifically underlined that talks with the United States should at all times stay within the framework of the nuclear deal, saying that broader diplomatic engagement “is one of the red lines that we cannot cross,” and adding, “This issue goes back to the cornerstones of the revolution.”
Rouhani’s Sept. 20-22 visit to New York was also marked by extensive coverage in the Iranian media of the breaking news that the US Treasury finally issued licenses to Boeing and Airbus, permitting the sale of passenger airplanes to Iran. The Boeing deal is the largest business agreement between Iran and the United States since the establishment of the Islamic Republic in 1979.
The positive reactions to the aircraft deals were inevitable in the pro-reform Iranian newspapers over the weekend. Speaking to the Reformist Shargh Daily on Sept. 24, Abbas Akhoundi, the minister of roads and urban development, praised the Boeing and Airbus deals and said, “This means that we finally after four decades can regain our share of the [aviation industry] in the global market.”
In contrast, news outlets close to hard-liners downplayed the aviation deals, which are authorized under the nuclear deal. Adopting a skeptical position on Sept. 24, the hard-line Vatan-e Emrooz criticized the United States for not delivering its part of the nuclear agreement on time, as it has been months since preliminary understandings with Airbus and Boeing were announced. Other conservative outlets such as Kayhan Daily took it further and demanded Sept. 26 that the United States provide compensation for the delay.
Saidi also remarked on the Boeing deal in his Sept. 24 interview with the IRGC-linked Fars News Agency, saying, “I am worried that they will send a few Boeing airplanes here and while a group of people take pictures with them, their minds will get sidetracked and they will start thinking that the JCPOA has been a success.”
In other news, Homa Hoodfar, an Iranian-Canadian academic who was imprisoned earlier this year on security charges, has been released on humanitarian grounds. Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Ghassemi announced Sept. 26 that she has returned to Canada through Oman. The release comes after Canadian Foreign Minister Stephane Dion’s Sept. 21 meeting with his Iranian counterpart Mohammad Javad Zarif on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly summit in New York. It was the first meeting held at the ministerial level since Ottawa severed relations with Tehran in 2012.