Iranian officials and media have hailed the trip of Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi to Iran as a new era in economic and diplomatic cooperation between Iran and Europe. However, despite the positive reception and billions in economic agreements signed, there are still people in the country who feel visits by European leaders have failed to produce tangible benefits.
Renzi, who traveled to Tehran with a delegation of 60 business leaders, said, “The end of sanctions is a historical step not just for Iran but for the entire region.” Iran and Italy signed seven agreements of cooperation in the fields of tourism, gas, oil and railways. When President Hassan Rouhani visited Italy in January, 30 agreements were signed between the two countries. During their meeting in Tehran, Rouhani said that the expansion of ties between Italy and Iran is the first step toward better ties between Iran and the European Union.
The top story of Reformist Etemad newspaper was headlined, “The post-nuclear deal laughter.” A picture of Rouhani and Renzi clapping and smiling accompanied the story. Arman Daily’s top story covered Renzi’s trip to Iran as well with a picture of Rouhani and Renzi walking and smiling. The picture also oddly appeared to have been manipulated to appear as if both leaders were emanating light.
Maryam Salari wrote in Iran Newspaper, which operates under the management of the administration, that Tehran has become the destination of world diplomats. Salari credited Rouhani’s election and his message of moderation for the numerous trips from European and regional leaders. The Islamic Republic News Agency, which also operates under the administration, wrote that Iran-Rome relations can be “the model for Europe’s relations with Iran.”
The jubilation over Renzi’s trip is understandable given that before international sanctions over Iran’s nuclear program, Italy was Iran’s largest trading partner in Europe with trade at 7 billion euros ($7.9 billion) a year in 2010. Rouhani said that he hopes Italy would once again restore this position.
Media close to the administration also covered the trip between Renzi and Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei favorably. The headline in Iran Newspaper focused on Khamenei’s positive assessment of Iran-Italy ties. What the headline omitted and what media critical of Rouhani’s outreach to the West did cover in their headlines was Khamenei’s criticism that the trips by European leaders have so far had no tangible benefits.
“Some European countries and companies are traveling to Iran and negotiating [business deals], but the outcome of these negotiations until now cannot be sensed,” Khamenei told Renzi. He added, “Some people put the blame of this issue on the shoulders of the Americans.”
Khamenei's reference was to the remaining US sanctions preventing Iran from conducting business in US dollars; this has caused many European businesses to hesitate about doing business with Iran. There is still confusion in Iran about these sanctions. On April 13, four Iranian parliamentarians asked Valiollah Seif, the head of Iran’s Central Bank, to clarify precisely which banking sanctions have been removed.
Khamenei’s comments, and the focus that a number of conservative and hard-line media such as Kayhan and Vatan-e Emrooz placed on them, show that despite the victorious tone of Reformist media, the Rouhani administration is still facing serious economic challenges domestically.
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