"I made those [election campaign] promises during the peace time, but we later entered a state of war, one which we did not choose or start," Iran's President Hassan Rouhani declared at a ceremony commemorating National Petrochemical Industry Day, on Dec. 30.
Rouhani swept two consecutive landslides in 2013 and in 2017 on a platform of economic prosperity among a host of other pledges, including on civil and political freedoms. To ease the burden on Iran's already battered economy, his government redirected nearly all efforts toward lifting US and international sanctions that were in place before his presidency over Tehran's controversial nuclear program.
Clinching a multilateral accord — known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) — with major world powers in 2015, the Rouhani government raised public hopes after materializing part of the much-needed economic relief. That, however, proved fleeting after US President Donald Trump walked away from the deal in May 2018. The withdrawal triggered a reimposition of US sanctions, throwing Iran's economic status nearly back to square one.
From the very outset, the greater majority of Iran's hard-liners expressed open opposition to Rouhani's engagement with the West and the JCPOA in particular. The latest Rouhani remarks, unsurprisingly, only further intensified their rage.
Tasnim news agency, affiliated with the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, detected "four confessions" in that one statement. In an analytical piece, the outlet reviewed Rouhani's 2013 campaign pledge to resolve economic problems in a 100-day period upon entering office, one that he denied later. "During his campaign, Rouhani was lamenting the state of war back then and claimed that he has the solution to save the country," the article continued. "But now he refers to the same period as the peace time, which is a confession that there was no war when he took office."
Tasnim raised rhetorical questions to a president who is shifting to the "reverse gear": "Who pushed the country from a state of peace into one of war? Who has been in the helm other than the president himself?"
In defense of the JCPOA, the Rouhani government has time and again explained it as a deal that removed the shadow of a looming war over Iran. In his new statement, according to ultraconservative daily Javan, "Rouhani failed to explain … why the very accord imposed a full-scale economic war on Iran." Echoing the same line, one conservative analyst in a tweet used the president's own words to attack him: "He garnered votes during 'the peace time' but shepherded the country into the 'war time.'"
One day later, on Dec. 31, and in yet another clear sign that Iran's economy needs quick remedies, Rouhani admitted that the country was experiencing "the worst of sanctions time," as he inaugurated a 25-kilometer (15-mile) subway line outside the capital Tehran.
In pursuit of a solution to ease the economic pressure and resolve the JCPOA impasse, Tehran has in the past one year intensified diplomacy with various international partners from Europe to Asia.
Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif was in Moscow Dec. 30, where he held "fruitful talks" with his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov. Zarif once again criticized the European signatories that have failed "to take any measures against US sanctions." Zarif's next stop Dec. 31 was Beijing, one of few Iran allies and its top business partner. The Iranian foreign minister sat down with China's top diplomat Wang Yi for a meeting that covered efforts to "safeguard" the fragile nuclear deal.
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