Embattled Rouhani’s Peace Hint Has Few Takers Within Iran


ByNaveed Ahmad

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s February 17 speech, spelling out his desire for peace with neighbors. “Iran is ready to work with regional states to preserve security in the Middle East,” Rouhani had stated in Hormozgan province. “We want to establish brotherly ties with all countries of the region,” Rouhani said in a speech televised on the state media. He, however, denied that Tehran ever initiated aggression in the Middle East.

Amidst signature chants of ‘Death to America’ and ‘Death to Israel,’ the president warned that the regional countries believing in Israel and America for ensuring regional security were wrong. The overture came about a week after the Warsaw Summit, jointly hosted by the US and Poland.
Iran watchers globally received the speech with skepticism as the media outlet played it up. As the president chose to sound restrained, his military commanders were doing exactly the opposite. In a knee-jerk reaction to the killing of 27 troops of Revolution Guard Corps in Sistan-Balochistan province, they were threatening Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Pakistan with retaliation.

Finding an opportunity to woo its ally, Indian Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj stopped over in Tehran while returning from Europe. “Iran and India suffered from two heinous terrorist attacks in the past few days resulted in big casualties. Today in my meeting with Sushma Swaraj the Indian FM, when she had a stopover in Tehran, we agreed on close cooperation to combat terrorism in the region. Enough is enough!” Araghchi tweeted.

The proposal of talks got further clouded by remarks of Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei whom Iran Students News Agency (ISNA) quoted as saying, “Our enemies’ unclean hearts are full of enmity towards the Islamic Republic … our officials should not be deceived by the Europeans. So, don’t be fooled by Europeans.”

Seemingly Rouhani’s call for a rapprochement with the neighboring states has proven cry in the wilderness. The seasoned politician may not have meant it the way his words were received outside the country. He might be just testing the political temperature. It can’t be farther from the truth for the economic crunch resulting from Trump’s punishing sanctions has angered the revolutionaries as well as his fellow parliamentarian. The calls for his resignation are becoming more pronounced and widespread.

The state marked the 40th anniversary of the revolution earlier this month, projecting heightened nationalistic fervor through a string of public gatherings and event across various large cities of the country. The exchange rate for the US dollar has soared beyond 13,800 rials while exports and foreign investment continue to decline. Rouhani’s popularity peaked when the nuclear deal was signed with P-5 in 2015. The political situation in Iran is evolving fast, with little damage control options with either side.

It is reported that former IRGC General Hassan Abbasi told a politically charged crowd in Karaj region saying Rouhani, Larijani and Zarif will spit on for wasting time on the nuclear deal once they leave power. Since President Rouhani’s resignation can embroil Iran into a deeper crisis, the pressure tactics are aimed at keeping the military cleared of public rage. The campaign actually aims at shifting the blame from the IRGC’s extended footprint to economic mismanagement. Rouhani is likely to stay in office for another two of his term.

Any meaningful actions towards lowering of tensions in the Gulf or reducing IRGC footprint in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon are costly political choices for the Iranian polity and clergy alike. Rouhani’s mild offer for talks has been shredded to pieces with last week’s naval exercises in the Strait of Hormuz, the second in the past six months. On February 24, Tehran test-fired its first-ever cruise missile from torpedo-hatch of its submarine. Typically, the missile’s range and payload are not announced. Still, the launch of a cruise missile from a submersible is a major boost to Iran’s naval capability, especially in the context of its threats to blockade the Strait of Hormuz. The year 2019 is slated to be the year of Iran’s navy.

The toxic atmosphere leaves little prospects for US-Iran dialogue. Even the European nations are being criticized for doing little to alleviate Tehran’s economic woes. Foreign Minister Javad Zarif expressed his frustration at the Munich Security Forum without mincing words. “For instance, INSTEX falls short of the commitments by the (European countries) to save the nuclear deal. Europe needs to be willing to get wet if it wants to swim against a dangerous tide of US unilateralism.” He even went to compare Iran’s economic ties to Europe with China’s.

“If the United States were to come, in the course of their fight with China, and tell Europe to stop dealing with China, what would you do? Whatever you (would) want to do then, do now in order to prevent that eventuality.” The Iranian FM said taking a jibe at US Vice President Mike Pence’s call to Europe to support his country’s nuclear sanctions.

Rouhani’s bid for relief in the Gulf or from the European nations will unlikely to be taken earnestly if the military continues to test new tactics and hold provocative wargames.

Opinions in this article reflect the writer’s point of view, not necessarily the view of Rasanah

Naveed Ahmad
Naveed Ahmad
Research Fellow (Strategic Affairs)