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Rouhani goes to Iraq to boost trade, assert authority at home

President Hassan Rouhani’s landmark visit to Iraq is not just about expanding trade to deflect US pressure on the Iranian economy, but also to boost his administration’s standing in Tehran.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani speaks during a joint news conference with his Turkish counterpart Tayyip Erdogan (not pictured) after their meeting in Ankara, Turkey, December 20, 2018. REUTERS/Umit Bektas - RC1EB95E32E0

“I remember that it was the first of Esfand,” the former senior Iranian official recalled, referring to Feb. 20 in the Iranian calendar, “I was at the Supreme National Security Council with Mr. Rouhani, and I told him that we won’t have any vacation for Nowruz this year. He asked: ‘What do you mean?’ I responded that I would be at his service.” The prediction turned out to be true.

As secretary of Iran’s top decision-making body, Hassan Rouhani spent the Iranian New Year holidays of March 2003 coordinating its daily meetings. The sessions were not held at the ordinary address in downtown Tehran. Rather, they were convened at the Center for Strategic Research, a think tank that Rouhani headed, overlooking a former palace of the shah in the leafy north of the Iranian capital. In contrast, the Supreme National Security Council had only met once every week or two, even in the months prior to the US-led invasion of Iraq.

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