President Hassan Rouhani’s rise to the highest elected position in the Islamic Republic in 2013 was mostly centered on his campaign promise to reduce tensions with Western countries through a comprehensive nuclear deal that would remove international sanctions against Iran. However, the nuclear deal Iran signed in 2015 was quickly scrapped by a new US administration, diminishing Rouhani’s promises of economic prosperity. As a result, the Rouhani administration and others who domestically supported the nuclear deal have been left scrambling, either moving the goal posts or attempting to diffuse the blame.
While the US sanctions have been reimposed and investment from Western companies never materialized, Rouhani has been touting other achievements of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). During a speech to government officials in the southern port city of Bushehr, Rouhani spoke about the significance of Chapter VII sanctions on Iran under the UN Charter being removed due to the nuclear accord. “Sixteen years ago they occupied Iraq and before the occupation they took Iraq to Chapter VII of the UN Security Council, and today the people and government of Iraq are feeling the consequences of that,” Rouhani said. He added, “We have to know the value of our diplomats … because a great and historical task was accomplished.”
On his promise of friendly relations with Western countries, Rouhani’s tone has become more hostile toward the United States. “Someone who prevents the import of medicine and food is a criminal. And the judicial institutions must pursue those domestically and outside US officials and those who design sanctions for crimes against humanity,” he said. This is the first time Rouhani has discussed pursuing criminal cases against US officials for implementing sanctions against his country. Iran has already sued the United States at the International Court of Justice for breaching the JCPOA; however, what Rouhani is suggesting here seems different, though it is equally dubious that Iran’s judiciary will impact US decision-makers.
Despite the blowback from engaging with US officials on a nuclear deal, Rouhani is certain his administration chose the right path. “The enemies of Iran, and US officials, should know that the course we went on was correct,” he said, adding that Iran wants to have good relations with “everyone in the world” based on mutual respect and good behavior. “If they do us a favor we will not forget, and if they oppress us we will stand against them.”
Headlines in conservative media outlets emphasized Rouhani’s comments that “we must damn the Zionists and Americans wherever we see problems.” Based on the transcript, the context of those statements was unclear, but Rouhani continued, “I’m surprised that the enemy has been able to breach the minds of some.” The comments are particularly striking for a Western-educated Iranian official who staked his political fortune on breaking a taboo of open direct talks with the United States.
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