“It is not just the end of an administration, it is the failure of the ‘maximum pressure’ policy and the economic terrorism against the great [Iranian] nation,” President Hassan Rouhani declared in reference to the expected departure of President Donald Trump from the White House.
The “maximum pressure” campaign has been intensely pursued by the Trump administration over the past three years with the aim of crippling Iran’s economy through multiple strategies, including sanctions on the country’s lifeline oil trade with the outside world.
While admitting that the US policy has imposed “much suffering,” Rouhani spoke triumphantly of how “Iranians were never brought to their knees thanks to their resistance.”
Iran has seen its oil revenues plummet due to US sanctions. The consequent devaluation of its national currency and the economic turbulence have sent prices soaring, leaving ordinary Iranians with a fast-diminishing purchasing power.
However, in his Cabinet address, Rouhani expressed optimism about economic relief on the immediate horizon. “I’m absolutely confident that people’s resistance will bear fruit in the months to come,” suggesting that the incoming administration of US President-elect Joe Biden would adopt a different Iran approach. “The next US government understands very well that [Trump’s path] cannot be pursued any further.”
The US president-elect has injected hopes into the Rouhani government for fresh talks by signaling a willingness to reenter and revive the Iran nuclear deal, from which Trump walked away in 2018. Still, the moderate administration in Tehran continues to face bumps on the road. During a televised speech on Friday, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who holds the final word on foreign policy matters, asserted that Tehran is “in no rush” to see the US rejoin the accord before the latter lifts anti-Iran sanctions.
The country’s hard-line parliament is also doggedly pushing a series of measures, including uranium enchainment at the 20% level, which is viewed by the Western signatories as a serious breach that may trigger an effective collapse of the deal.
Still, Rouhani’s challenges are not simply posed by domestic rivalries. In the United States, the incoming administration is receiving cautions from key members of the Trump administration to stand tough and avoid normalizing ties with Tehran. “The reality is you have a better chance finding a unicorn,” wrote Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in a series of tweets, alleging that Iran has been harboring al-Qaeda.
While Pompeo has yet to back up the statement, it was not immediately clear how it would be treated by the new administration. Yet he seemed to have tossed a grenade among Iranian officials in Tehran, triggering an endless torrent of condemnations. Among others, the country’s Foreign Ministry Spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh defended Iran’s “transparent record in fighting al-Qaeda terrorism,” dismissing Pompeo’s “baseless claims” as a sign of the Trump team’s “desperation” from “their failed ‘maximum pressure’ policy.”