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Rouhani touts meeting with top economists on containing crisis

Iran's president held a meeting with the country's top economists to discuss the ongoing crisis, but some hard-liners have lambasted the secrecy surrounding the talks.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani addresses the Innovation and Industry Forum during an official visit in Bern, Switzerland, July 3, 2018. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse - RC17EB456B20

In a closed three-hour meeting with 40 Iranian economists on Oct. 15, President Hassan Rouhani insisted that the country's economy is not in crisis, but acknowledged that it’s not in "normal conditions" either. "Despite the hardships, this period shall pass," Rouhani said, praising his government's "precise planning," which he asserted will counter "US policies in the long run." 

Rouhani highlighted the importance of "revitalizing hope in the society to defeat the enemies" in what he described as a "psychological and economic war" waged on Iran. Defending his government's performance, he traced the roots of the economy's "chronic diseases" in the years before he took office, but promised that the nation will face no issues with basic supplies even under tougher circumstances.

Still, Rouhani's remarks and the circumstances surrounding the meeting prompted fury from some hard-liners. "The news coming out of the meeting is all about the president's remarks," complained Javan, a hard-line paper affiliated with the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. Javan's editorial expressed dismay at the perceived media blackout and raised suspicions about the absence of First Vice President Eshaq Jahangiri. "Economists who oppose the government's policies were also absent and it's not clear whether they were ignored or whether they decided not to show up. [Even] the top experts supportive of the government were absent and that means [the meeting was about] nothing."

Reform-minded economist Saeed Leylaz was approached for comment by a reporter following the event. "We better just shut up," he was quoted as saying. Later, however, he lashed out at some media outlets for distorting and printing his comments out of context. Separately, he told Iran's Labor News Agency that there is clear evidence and statistics strongly justifying a defense of Rouhani's economic performance.

"Most of the participants were opponents of the government and they expressed some sharp criticism," tweeted economic writer Sadegh Alhosseini. Yet Rouhani dismissed some of those critical comments as irrelevant, he said. The mixed reactions did not end there. Ahmad Tavakoli, a heavyweight conservative economist and politician, noted that some of Rouhani's remarks were backed by "convincing logic."

The Reformist daily Seda-ye Eslahat echoed the hard-liners' anger over the blackout by referring to the event as a "secret meeting." But Khorasan said the president listened to all the biting criticism and responded. According to the conservative Mehr News Agency, for some reason those who attended refused to make any public comments. "They were slightly upset … as they felt the president was there to speak for himself, and just call on them to observe some considerations in their analyses in the media."

All in all, details of the meeting's concrete outcomes, if there were any, remain undisclosed to the Iranian media, which has been mounting pressure on the Rouhani administration over its economic policies. Regardless of whether it was a formality or for serious consultation, the event seems to have been Rouhani's response to several open letters drafted by the country's economists on the urgent need for a strategy to end the economic crisis.

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