Iran’s Rouhani backs Qatar, rejects ‘siege’

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF REUTERS)

Iran’s Rouhani backs Qatar, rejects ‘siege’

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani voiced support on Sunday for Qatar in its confrontation with Iran’s rival Saudi Arabia and its allies, saying a “siege of Qatar is unacceptable”, the state news agency IRNA reported.

Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Bahrain cut ties with Qatar on June 5, accusing it of support for Islamist militants, an allegation Qatar denies.

They have since issued 13 demands including closing Al Jazeera television, curbing relations with Iran, shutting a Turkish base and paying reparations.

“Tehran stands with the Qatari nation and government… We believe that if there is a conflict between regional countries, pressure, threats or sanctions are not the right way to resolve differences,” IRNA quoted Rouhani as telling Qatar’s emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, in a telephone call.

“The siege of Qatar is unacceptable to us… The airspace, land and sea of our country will always be open to Qatar as a brotherly and neighboring country,” Rouhani said.

Doha, whose neighbors have closed their airspace to Qatari flights, has said it was reviewing the list of demands, but said it was not reasonable or actionable.

Shi’ite Muslim Iran and Sunni Saudi Arabia accuse each other of subverting regional security and support opposite sides in conflicts in Syria, Yemen and Iraq.

(Reporting by Dubai newsroom; Editing by Adrian Croft)

The guidebooks and selfie-sticks arrive as Rouhani’s Iran declares itself open to all

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE GUARDIAN NEWSPAPER)

The guidebooks and selfie-sticks arrive as Rouhani’s Iran declares itself open to all

With visitor numbers rising and hotel chains circling, Iran is reinventing itself – but the change is too fast for some
The Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque in Isfahan.
The Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque in Isfahan. Photograph: James Strachan/Getty/Robert Harding World Imagery

Standing in the blue-tiled shadows of one of Iran’s greatest mosques, armed with a dish of sesame caramel snacks, Mohammed Reza Zamani is a cleric on a mission to repair the country’s image in the west, one tourist at a time.

“Free Friendly Talks” a billboard announces in English, at the entrance to a historic religious seminary-turned-museum, in the central city of Isfahan, a former imperial capital so beautiful that even today Iranians describe the city as “half the world”.

Tourism brings both money and a more positive international image for Iran, says Zamani, 36, a theology student, who is keen to ensure that visitors who might once have been alarmed by his clerical turban and robes feel welcome in his city.

“I think the moment they set foot in Iran [foreigners] find it totally different from what they expect, and their minds are changed by the people when visitors talk to us,” he said, as he took a short break between explaining marriage and circumcision traditions to a group of Italians and discussing millenarian religious beliefs with a man from the Netherlands.

Iran’s reformist president, Hassan Rouhani, staked his government and reputation on opening Iran to the world, sealing a nuclear deal that ended sanctions and courting foreign investment in its wake.

Rouhani was re-elected for a second term in a landslide victory last weekend, a sweeping endorsement of his policy from the Iranian people. And for many Iranians the growing flood of foreigners armed with guidebooks and selfie sticks is one of the most visible signs of change and re-engagement.

“Isfahan lives by tourists,” said Masood Mohamedian, a former lorry driver who this year gambled all his savings on opening a small cafe serving traditional snacks just off the main square. “I am 100% happy with Rouhani as president.”

Tourism to Iran might seem like a hard sell. The initial problem is the country’s reputation, tied up inextricably for many in the west with dramatic television images of the US embassy hostage crisis from 1979-81, and the fatwa issued in 1989 against Salman Rushdie for his book The Satanic Verses. More recently, the crackdown that followed disputed 2009 elections, and arrests of figures such as Washington Post journalist Jason Rezaian, have done little to soften that image. And the country’s conservative religious and social rules, which visitors must observe along with citizens, might deter some westerners.

There is little public nightlife, no alcohol, men and women cannot kiss or embrace in public, and women in particular must observe a relatively strict dress code, wearing a headscarf and covering their arms and legs. But tens of thousands of people have decided that Iran’s attractions far outweigh those constraints. And Iran has tried to encourage them by easing restrictions on travel.

Europeans from countries including France, Italy and Germany, who account for the majority of western tourists, can now get visas on arrival in Tehran, and at the main sites they mingle with sightseers from China, Japan and elsewhere.

“When the sanctions were lifted, I decided to come as soon as possible,” said Simonetta Marfoglia, an Italian tourist who was halfway through a two-week trip. “I had read a lot of Iranian poetry, and I am very interested in the history of the region. I am really very happy to be visiting: the people are wonderful, there is great hospitality, and it’s very friendly.”

Mohammed Reza Zamani (standing, centre right) with an Italian group in Isfahan.
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Mohammed Reza Zamani (standing, centre right) with an Italian group in Isfahan. Photograph: Emma Graham-Harrison for the Observer

The country boasts an extraordinarily rich cultural heritage, from the ruins of ancient Persepolis to Isfahan and other historic cities, such as Kashan, Tabriz and Shiraz.

Food-lovers can feast on dishes from a sophisticated cuisine that is winning increasing recognition in the west, with dishes such as fesenjan, a rich, tart and sweet chicken stew thick with walnuts and pomegranate molasses.

There are also bazaars packed with carpets and handicrafts for shoppers, a thriving contemporary arts scene and spectacular natural beauty ranging from beaches to stark deserts and snow-capped mountains. .

Together these factors have fuelled a dramatic rise in western tourists to Iran, although the majority of its two million visitors are still religious pilgrims visiting its major shrines.

Isfahan, the jewel in Iran’s heritage crown and more a destination for tourists than pilgrims, counted just over 5,000 visitors a month in 2013, when Rouhani came to power. By spring 2017 that number had risen to 85,000 in a single month, the newspaper Isfahan Today reported.

The surge in visitors has been so dramatic that some nights in high season every single hotel room in the city is taken, according to the receptionist at the newly built Zenderood Hotel.

Foreign hotel chains are eyeing the market enthusiastically, particularly since some of the biggest American players are still in effect barred. US sanctions have stayed in place after the nuclear-linked bans were lifted, leaving the field clear for European and other groups. Dubai-based Rotana Hotels is the latest firm to unveil plans for a new hotel in Isfahan, following the likes of the French chain Accor.

Spanish heritage hotel company Paradores is also looking at opportunities in the country, whose famous hotels include a former caravanserai that housed traders bringing lucrative goods to market in the 16th century.

The biggest challenge to Iran’s goal of increasing tourist numbers tenfold within the decade may be the pace of change they represent, in a country where Rouhani’s conservative rival still managed to garner 16 million votes in the election.

“I am unhappy about their cultural impact, because of their customs,” grumbled Mohammed Paknahad, a shopkeeper in Isfahan’s bazaar, who said tourists rarely bought his handicrafts. “Some of the women don’t cover their bodies properly.”

Iran: Re-elected In A Landslide President Rouhani, Promises To Open Iran Up To The World

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF REUTERS)

By Parisa Hafezi and Babak Dehghanpisheh | DUBAI/BEIRUT

President Hassan Rouhani pledged on Saturday to open Iran to the world and deliver freedoms its people have yearned for, throwing down a defiant challenge to his hard line opponents after securing a decisive re-election for a second term.

Rouhani, long known as a cautious and mild-mannered establishment insider, reinvented himself as a bold champion of reform during the election campaign, which culminated on Friday in victory with more than 57 percent of the vote. His main challenger, hardline judge Ebrahim Raisi, received 38 percent.

In his first televised speech after the result, Rouhani appeared to openly defy conservative judges by praising the spiritual leader of the reform camp, former President Mohammad Khatami. A court has banned quoting or naming Khatami on air.

“Our nation’s message in the election was clear: Iran’s nation chose the path of interaction with the world, away from violence and extremism,” Rouhani said.

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, whose country has had no diplomatic relations with Iran since 1980, said he hoped Rouhani would use his second term to end Tehran’s ballistic missile program and what he called its network of terrorism.

Iran denies any involvement in terrorism and says its missile program, which U.S. President Donald Trump recently targeted with new sanctions, is purely for defense purposes.

Although the powers of the elected president are limited by those of un-elected Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei who outranks him, the scale of Rouhani’s victory gives the pro-reform camp its strongest mandate in at least 12 years to seek the sort of change that hardliners have thwarted for decades.

Rouhani’s opponent Raisi, a protege of Khamenei, had united the conservative faction and had been tipped as a potential successor to the 77-year-old supreme leader. His defeat leaves the conservatives without an obvious flag bearer.

The re-election is likely to safeguard the nuclear agreement Rouhani’s government reached with global powers in 2015, under which most international sanctions have been lifted in return for Iran curbing its nuclear program.

And it delivers a setback to the Revolutionary Guards (IRGC), the powerful security force which controls a vast industrial empire in Iran. They had thrown their support behind Raisi to safeguard their interests.

CHEERING AND DANCING

Thousands of people gathered in central Tehran to celebrate Rouhani’s victory. Videos on social media showed young people clapping and chanting “We love you Hassan Rouhani, we support you.”

Some youngsters wore wristbands in violet, the color of Rouhani’s campaign. Others wore green, representing the reformist movement crushed by security forces after a 2009 election, whose leaders have been under house arrest since 2011.

During campaigning, Rouhani promised to seek their release if re-elected with a stronger mandate.

A supporter of Iranian president Hassan Rouhani holds his poster as she celebrates his victory in the presidential election, in Tehran, Iran, May 20, 2017. TIMA via REUTERS

“We won. We’ve done what we should have for our country. Now it’s Rouhani’s turn to keep his promises,” said coffee shop owner Arash Geranmayeh, 29, reached by telephone in Tehran.

Videos from the cities of Kermanshah, Tabriz and the holy city of Mashhad showed hundreds of people in the streets, cheering and dancing.

Rouhani, 68, faces the same limits on his power to transform Iran that prevented him from delivering social change in his first term, and that thwarted Khatami, who failed to deliver on a reform agenda as president from 1997-2005.

But by publicly thanking “my dear brother, Mohammad Khatami” in his victory speech, Rouhani seemed to take up that mantle. It was a remarkable challenge to the Shi’ite Muslim religious judicial authorities, who have blacklisted Khatami from public life for his support for other reformists under house arrest.

Many experts are skeptical that a president can change much in Iran, as long as the supreme leader has veto power over all policies and control over the security forces. Some said the pattern was all too familiar from Rouhani’s first victory four years ago and Khatami’s victories the previous decade.

“The last two decades of presidential elections have been short days of euphoria followed by long years of disillusionment,” said Karim Sadjadpour, senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment who focuses on Iran.

“Democracy in Iran is allowed to bloom only a few days every four years, while autocracy is evergreen.”

The re-elected president will also have to navigate a tricky relationship with Washington, which appears at best ambivalent about the nuclear accord agreed by former U.S. President Barack Obama. Trump has repeatedly described it as “one of the worst deals ever signed”, although his administration re-authorized waivers from sanctions this week.

Trump arrived on Saturday in Saudi Arabia, his first stop on the first trip abroad of his presidency. The Saudis are Iran’s biggest enemies in the region and are expected to push hard for Trump to turn his back on the nuclear deal.

Speaking at a joint news conference with his U.S. counterpart in Riyadh, Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir said Iran’s presidential election was an internal matter. “We want to see deeds, not words” from Iran, he added.

Kuwait’s emir Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah, an ally of Saudi Arabia, congratulated Rouhani on his re-election.

BREAKING TABOOS

Rouhani’s reinvention as an ardent reformist on the campaign trail helped stir the passion of young, urban voters yearning for change. At times he broke rhetorical taboos, attacking the human rights record of the security forces and the judiciary.

During one rally he referred to hardliners as “those who cut out tongues and sewed mouths shut”. In a debate last week he accused Raisi of seeking to “abuse religion for power”. The language at the debate earned a rare public rebuke from Khamenei, who called it “unworthy”.

The contentiousness of the campaign could make it more difficult for Rouhani to secure the consent of hardliners to carry out his agenda, said Abbas Milani, director of the Iranian Studies program at Stanford University.

“Rouhani upped the ante in the past 10 days in the rhetoric that he used. Clearly it’s going to be difficult to back down on some of this stuff.”

The Guards could also use their role as shock troops of Iran’s interventions across the Middle East to try to derail future rapprochement with the West, said Meir Javedanfar, an Iranian-born lecturer at Israel’s Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya.

“Since the 1979 revolution, whenever hardliners have lost a political battle, they have tried to settle scores,” he said.

“I would worry about the more confrontational policy of the IRGC in the Persian Gulf … and more confrontational policy with the U.S. and Saudi Arabia.”

Among the congratulatory messages sent to Rouhani by world leaders, Iran’s battlefield ally Syrian President Bashar al-Assad looked forward to cooperating “to strengthen the security and stability of both countries, the region and the world”.

The biggest prize for Rouhani’s supporters is the potential to set Iran’s course for decades by influencing the choice of a successor to Khamenei, who has been in power since 1989.

A Raisi victory would have probably ensured that the next supreme leader was a hardliner. Rouhani’s win gives reformists a chance to build clout in the body that chooses the leader, the Assembly of Experts, where neither reformists nor conservatives dominate.

Khamenei praised Iranians for their big turnout after voters queued up for hours to cast their ballots. The strong turnout of around 73 percent of eligible voters appeared to have favored Rouhani, whose backers’ main concern had been apathy among reformists disappointed with the slow pace of change.

Many voters said they came out to block the rise of Raisi, one of four judges who sentenced thousands of political prisoners to death in the 1980s, regarded by reformers as a symbol of the security state at its most fearsome.

“The wide mobilization of the hardline groups and the real prospect of Raisi winning scared many people into coming out to vote,” said Nasser, a 52-year-old journalist.

“We had a bet among friends, and I said Raisi would win and I think that encouraged a few of my friends who might not have voted to come out and vote.”

(Additional reporting by Bozorgmehr Sharafedin; Writing by Peter Graff; Editing by Andrew Roche and Helen Popper)

Threat of War Stokes Conflict in Iran

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SAUDI NEWS AGENCY ASHARQ AL-AWSAT)

(Commentary: It is my total belief that it does not matter how the people of Iran vote on May 19th, (just as it did not matter 2 elections ago) there is only vote in Iran that counts, and that is the vote of the Supreme Leader (Hater) Ali Khamenei!)(trs)
World

Threat of War Stokes Conflict in Iran

Tehran- Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on Tuesday slammed election slogans of outgoing President Hassan Rouhani on the removal of the “shadow of war” from Iran by signing the nuclear deal.

Iranians should not thank Hassan Rouhani’s policy of detente with the West for any reduction in the threat of war, Khamenei said on Sunday, stepping up his criticisms of the president as elections approach.

Hours later, Rouhani renewed his position, but softened his tone.

At the same time, Iran’s Election Commission announced that it received complaints from four candidates in the presidential elections because of the issues witnessed in the first debate.

Ebrahim Raisi, Tehran Mayor Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf, and conservative presidential candidate Mustafa Merslim protested against the way the debate was moderated and accusations made against competitors.

In comments that appeared to favor hardline candidates in the May 19 vote, Khamenei played down the benefits of Rouhani’s landmark agreement to curb Iran’s nuclear activities in return for a lifting of international sanctions.

“Some say since they took office the shadow of war has been faded away. This is not correct,” Khamenei was quoted as saying by state media.

“It’s been people’s presence in the political scene that has removed the shadow of war from the country.”

Khamenei and his hardline supporters have also criticized the nuclear deal — which stiffled talk by Washington of possible military action against Iran — for failing to deliver promised economic benefits.

But speaking at the opening of a refinery that Iran says will make it self-sufficient in oil products, Rouhani defended his position.

“The nuclear deal was a national achievement. We should make use of its advantages. But some have started a fight over it,” Rouhani said. He cited the new refinery, in the Gulf port city of Bandar Abbas as a result of the deal and “interaction with the world”.

One of Rouhani’s main challengers, Raisi, an influential cleric with decades of experience in the hardline judiciary, said Iran had no need of foreign help to improve the economy and could always defend itself.

“We should not warn our people of wars and crises. We have full security in the country,” Raisi said in a recorded address on state television.

“This approach, that we should wait for foreign investment and for foreigners to resolve our issues, is wrong.

“This is wrong, to wait years and years for foreign investors to come … We should resolve issues by relying on domestic capabilities,” Raisi said in comments that echoed those previously made by Khamenei, Iran’s highest authority.

Rouhani has said Iran needs foreign capital to modernize its oil, gas, transportation and telecommunication sectors after decades of international isolation.

However, foreign investors are still cautious about trading with or investing in Iran, fearing penalties from remaining unilateral US sanctions and President Donald Trump’s tough rhetoric on the Islamic Republic.

This has caused long delays in contracts that Iran seeks with international firms to develop its oil and gas fields.

Iran’s President Warns The Iranian People Of ‘Consequences’ For Questioning Economic Policy

 

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SAUDI NEWS AGENCY ASHARQ AL-AWSAT)

 

London- Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has warned against questioning Iran’s ability to overcome its economic crises, saying the criticism directed at his government will lead to a defeat in the battle for a better economy.

“We are defiantly victorious in implementing the economy of resistance,” Rouhani said Wednesday, noting that Iran – with a great nation, an effective government and an intelligent leader – is the winner of the economy of resistance.

Addressing an international conference in commemoration of the martyrs of the World of Islam underway in Mashhad, Rouhani said the Iranian nation has for 38 years been able to resist against all pressures.

“In today’s difficult conditions for oil producers … Iran has remained steadfast,” the president noted.

He revealed that Iran was able to reduce the inflation rate and preserve the value of the national currency.

“Today’s war is a war of determination,” Rouhani stated.

The president underlined the need to possess advanced weapons to resist the enemies in case of a war, saying “we should develop missiles and aircrafts and we are doing so.”

However, he said the enemy “fears the nation’s faith and determination, more than weapons.”

The comments came a day after Ahmad Jannati, the head of the Assembly of Experts, a body that selects Iran’s supreme leader, cast doubt over the government’s performance and starkly criticized Rouhani’s economy of resistance policy.

Rouhani should apologize to the Iranian people if he cannot show that the economy has improved, one of Iran’s most prominent hardliners said on Tuesday.

“If the resistance economy has not been followed in the way that it should have, then he must apologize and tell Iranians the reasons,” Jannati told a meeting of the Assembly where Rouhani was present.

Rouhani on Wednesday rejected as “irrelevant” the question whether his government is successful in the economy of resistance and said his administration would present a full economic report by the end of the Iranian calendar year, in late March.

The President said the Islamic Republic has managed to “push up economic growth, bring down inflation and maintain the value of national currency” despite difficulties it has been facing like other major crude exporters.