Iran: President Rouhani Suggests Talks with US Possible if it Lifts Sanctions

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

 

Rouhani Suggests Talks with US Possible if it Lifts Sanctions

Wednesday, 29 May, 2019 – 11:00
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani. (AP)
Asharq Al-Awsat
President Hassan Rouhani suggested on Wednesday that talks with the United States may be possible if it lifted sanctions against Iran.

“Whenever they lift the unjust sanctions and fulfill their commitments and return to the negotiations table, which they left themselves, the door is not closed,” he told a cabinet meeting without explicitly naming the US.

“But our people judge you by your actions, not your words,” he said according to state television.

Rouhani’s website also quoted him as saying that if the US chooses “another way and returns to justice and law, the Iranian nation will keep the road open to you.”

He made his comments days after US President Donald Trump said a deal with Tehran on its nuclear program was conceivable.

Washington withdrew last year from a 2015 international nuclear deal with Tehran, and is ratcheting up sanctions in efforts to shut down Iran’s economy by ending its international sales of crude oil.

Trump said on Monday: “I really believe that Iran would like to make a deal, and I think that’s very smart of them, and I think that’s a possibility to happen.”

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi said on Tuesday that Iran saw no prospect of negotiations with the United States.

Tensions have risen between Iran and the United States since Washington deployed military resources including a carrier strike group and bombers and announced plans to deploy 1,500 troops to the Middle East, prompting fears of a conflict.

Iranian Stances Vary on Rouhani’s Demands for More Powers

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

 

Iranian Stances Vary on Rouhani’s Demands for More Powers

Thursday, 23 May, 2019 – 10:00
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani. (Reuters)
London – Asharq Al-Awsat
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani faced criticism after he renewed demands to reinforce his powers, while pro-government newspapers endorsed his call amid the increasing pressure by the US on Tehran.

Two weeks ago, the president criticized his limited influence in foreign policy and on Tuesday the IRNA news agency reported that he was seeking expanded, wartime executive powers to better deal with an “economic war” sparked by the US administration’s pullout from the nuclear deal and imposition of severe sanctions

Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei expressed his dissatisfaction with Rouhani and how his team handled the nuclear deal also known as JCPOA.

“I did not believe in the way the JCPOA was done, and I have made this clear to the president and the foreign minister on many occasions,” he said.

Referring to a letter he sent to Rouhani, Khamenei stated: “Read my letter regarding the JCPOA and the conditions set for its ratification. But, if these conditions were not met, it is not the Leader’s responsibility to intervene.”

The government has been insisting on powers that allow it to form an operations room to confront the economic war.

Guardian Council Spokesman Abbas Ali Kadkhodaei tweeted that former presidents enjoyed wide powers according to the constitution, and currently Rouhani has more powers that can meet the country’s demands.

He also blamed former presidents for not using their full powers to resolve the issues of the country.

Reformist Mostafa Hashemi Taba said that the government powers are “below expectations”, adding that the situation in Iran today is more difficult than the time of war.

The Kayhan newspaper slammed Rouhani for demanding more powers, accusing him of failing to provide solutions to Iran’s economic woes even before the US pulled out of the nuclear deal.

Tehran to Continue Enriching Uranium, Rouhani Warns Against Internal Divisions

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

 

Tehran to Continue Enriching Uranium, Rouhani Warns Against Internal Divisions

Sunday, 5 May, 2019 – 08:00
A general view of the Bushehr nuclear power plant, some 1,200 km (746 miles) south of Tehran October 26, 2010. REUTERS/IRNA/Mohammad Babaie
London- Asharq Al-Awsat
As the US intensifies its pressure campaign aimed at curbing Tehran’s ballistic missile program and its regional influence, the Iranian clerical-led regime reaffirmed its plans to resume enriching uranium, heavy (deuterium0-based) water and exporting oil.

Speaker Ali Larijani said Tehran would continue to enrich uranium and produce heavy water, regardless of restrictions on shipping abroad.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, for his part, warned that the recent host of US economic sanctions, a part of Washington strategy to counter Iranian malicious behavior, risks stoking internal tensions. Reformists in Rouhani’s administration and Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei loyalists have been at odds on Iran’s response policy to pressure.

“Under the [nuclear accord] Iran can produce heavy water and this is not in violation of the agreement. Therefore, we will carry on with enrichment activity,” the semi official Iranian news agency, ISNA, quoted Parliamentary speaker Ali Larijani as saying on May 4.

“We will enrich Uranium whether you move to buy it or not,” Larijani said.

On May 3, the US President Donald Trump’s administration slapped new restrictions on Iran’s nuclear activities as it looks to force Tehran to stop producing low-enriched uranium and expanding its only nuclear power plant, intensifying a campaign aimed at halting Tehran’s ballistic missile program and curbing its regional power.

Despite increasing pressure on Iran, the United States on May 3 extended five sanction waivers that will allow Russian, China, and European countries to continue to work with Iran’s civilian nuclear program at Bushehr. But it said it may punish any activity that expands the site.

At the same time, the State Department said it was ending two waivers related to Iranian exports of enriched uranium in what it called “the toughest sanctions ever on the Iranian regime.” All of the waivers were due to expire on May 4.

The 45- to 90-day extensions were shorter than the 180 days granted previously but can be renewed.

It was the third punitive action taken against Iran in as many weeks. Last week, it said it would grant no more sanctions waivers for countries buying Iranian oil, accelerating its plan to push Iran’s oil exports to zero. The Trump administration also took the unprecedented step of designating Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guard Corps as a foreign terrorist organization.

“The Trump administration continues to hold the Iranian regime accountable for activities that threaten the region’s stability and harm the Iranian people. This includes denying Iran any pathway to a nuclear weapon,” State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus said.

The Trump administration pulled out of the nuclear accord a year ago and vowed “maximum pressure” aimed at curbing the regional role of Iran.”

Iran’s President Decries US Policy Of Maximum Pressure

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

 

Iran’s Rouhani Decries US Policy of Maximum Pressure

Wednesday, 1 May, 2019 – 09:15
Rouhani speaks during a ceremony marking national Workers’ Week in Tehran, Iran April 30, 2019. (Reuters)
London – Asharq Al-Awsat
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani delivered Tuesday a vocal defiance to Washington’s latest measure to bring Iranian oil exports to zero.

“We will bring the US to its knees,” said Rouhani two days ahead of US decision to end waivers for country’s buying Iranian oil goes into effect.

Rouhani’s bellicose words followed an even tougher speech delivered by Qassem Soleimani, who commands the Revolutionary Guard’s Quds Force.

“Enemies are looking to harm us through coercion, sanctions and threatening the country’s stability,” Soleimani said, while stressing that the US is going full-throttle in its attempt to trigger regime change in Tehran.

Last week, Washington announced it will no longer exempt eight countries that mainly import oil from Iran from economic sanctions. The move is set to place maximum pressure on Tehran so that it returns to negotiations and complies with 12 demands which include ending its support for regional militias, as well as freezing its development of ballistic missiles.

Since then, Rouhani and Iran’s top diplomat, Mohammad Javad Zarif, have signaled willingness to reopen negotiation channels.

But Soleimani blasted any talks under the pressure of economic sanctions as “degrading, capitulation and surrender.”

The country’s ultra-conservative Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani, for his part, deemed returning to the roundtable a “strategic blunder.”

“America’s decision that Iranian oil exports should reach zero is wrong and incorrect, and we will not allow this decision to be implemented,” Rouhani said.

“In the coming months, the Americans themselves will see that we will continue our oil exports,” Rouhani said, taking pride in Tehran having “six methods” to circumvent US sanctions.

Rouhani and Iranian officials have threatened to disrupt oil shipments through the Strait of Hormuz if Washington tries to halt Iranian oil exports.

The Strait of Hormuz links the crude-producing countries of the Middle East and markets in Asia and the Pacific, Europe, North America and beyond, and a third of the world’s sea-transported oil passes through it every day.

Iran has also threatened to pull out of the nuclear deal itself if European powers do not succeed in ensuring Tehran’s economic benefits.

European countries have said they would help companies keep their operations with Iran as long as they are committed to the deal, but Tehran has criticized what it sees as a slow pace of progress in the implementation of a payment mechanism for trade settlement between Iran and Europe.

Iran: IRGC Threatens to close Hormuz Strait

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

 

IRGC Threatens to Close Hormuz Strait

Tuesday, 23 April, 2019 – 11:00
An Iranian warship and speed boats take part in a naval war game in the Arabian Gulf and the Strait of Hormuz, April 22, 2010. REUTERS/Fars News
London – Asharq Al-Awsat
The Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) has hinted that it would close the Strait of Hormuz if Iran is prevented from using it, in what appeared to be the first response to the US plan to end waivers on Iranian oil exports.

“If Iran’s benefits in the Strait of Hormuz, which according to international rules is an international waterway, are denied, we will close it,” IRGC Navy Commander Rear Admiral Alireza Tangsiri said after the Trump administration revealed Monday that it will no longer exempt any countries from US sanctions if they continue to buy Iranian oil.

Iran has previously threatened to close the strait.

“Don’t play with fire, or you will regret,”  Iranian President Rouhani cautioned Trump last July. Rouhani said that the Americans should come to realize that establishing peace with Iran is the mother of all peace and waging war with the country is the mother of all wars.

At the same time, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei agreed that Rouhani’s threats to close the international waterway expressed the regime’s policy.

Khamenei replaced chief commander of IRGC Mohammad Ali Jafari with Brigadier General Hossein Salami, seven days after the US designated the group a foreign terrorist organization.

Tangsiri added that replacing the IRGC commander-in-chief had nothing to do with Washington’s recent decision.

However, Iranian Armed Forces spokesman Brigadier-General Abu al-Fadl Shakarji said Monday that Salami’s appointment is a blow to the US.

The Iranian foreign ministry said Iran was in “constant talks with its international partners including the Europeans” on Washington’s ending of the exemptions. It added that an “important decision” will be announced later, without elaborating.

China, India, North Korea, Japan, Taiwan, Italy, and Greece will face US sanctions starting May in case they continue to purchase Iranian oil. In November, Washington reimposed strict economic sanctions against Tehran and all states that don’t abide by them, after its withdrawal from the 2015 nuclear deal.

France points finger at Iran over bomb plot, seizes assets

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF REUTERS NEWS AGENCY)

 

France points finger at Iran over bomb plot, seizes assets

PARIS (Reuters) – France said on Tuesday there was no doubt Iran’s intelligence ministry was behind a June plot to attack an exiled opposition group’s rally outside Paris and it seized assets belonging to Tehran’s intelligence services and two Iranian nationals.

The hardening of relations between Paris and Tehran could have far-reaching consequences for Iran as President Hassan Rouhani’s government looks to European capitals to salvage a 2015 nuclear deal after the United States pulled out and reimposed tough sanctions on Iran.

“Behind all this was a long, meticulous and detailed investigation by our (intelligence) services that enabled us to reach the conclusion, without any doubt, that responsibility fell on the Iranian intelligence ministry,” a French diplomatic source said.

The source, speaking after the government announced asset freezes, added that deputy minister and director general of intelligence Saeid Hashemi Moghadam had ordered the attack and Assadollah Asadi, a Vienna-based diplomat held by German authorities, had put it into action.

The ministry is under control of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei,

“We deny once again the allegations against Iran and demand the immediate release of the Iranian diplomat,” Iranian foreign ministry spokesman Bahram Qasemi was quoted as saying by state news agency IRNA.

The incident was a plot “designed by those who want to damage Iran’s long-established relations with France and Europe,” he said.

The plot targeted a meeting of the Paris-based National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) outside the French capital. U.S. President Donald Trump’s lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, and several former European and Arab ministers attended the rally.

It unraveled after Asadi, an accredited diplomat in Austria, was arrested in Germany, two other individuals were detained in Belgium in possession of explosives, and one other individual in France.

On Monday, a court in southern Germany ruled the diplomat could be extradited to Belgium.

“We cannot accept any terrorist threat on our national territory and this plot needed a firm response,” the diplomatic source said.

FILE PHOTO: Supporters of Maryam Rajavi, president-elect of the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), attend a rally in Villepinte, near Paris, France, June 30, 2018. REUTERS/Regis Duvignau/File Photo

TARGETED ASSET FREEZES

The asset freezes targeted Asadi and Moghadam. A unit within the Iranian intelligence services was also targeted.

The French government gave no details of the assets involved, describing its measures as “targeted and proportionate”.

The diplomatic source said the freezes covered assets and financing means in France, although neither individual at this stage had any assets in the country.

“We hope this matter is now over. We have taken measures and said what we needed to say,” the source said, suggesting Paris was seeking to turn a page on the issue.

France had warned Tehran to expect a robust response to the thwarted bombing and diplomatic relations were becoming increasingly strained.

French President Emmanuel Macron and Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian spoke to their Iranian counterparts about the issue at the U.N. General Assembly after demanding explanations over Iran’s role.

An internal French foreign ministry memo in August told diplomats not to travel to Iran, Reuters revealed, citing the Villepinte bomb plot and a toughening of Iran’s position toward the West.

Paris has also suspended nominating a new ambassador to Iran and not responded to Tehran nominations for diplomatic positions in France.

While not directly linked to the plot, the diplomatic source said a French police raid on a Shi’ite Muslim faith center earlier on Tuesday was aimed at also sending a signal at Iran.

The deterioration of relations with France could have wider implications for Iran.

France has been one of the strongest advocates of salvaging the 2015 nuclear deal, which saw Tehran agree to curbs on its nuclear program in return for a lifting of economic sanctions.

FILE PHOTO: Supporters of Maryam Rajavi, president-elect of the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), attend a rally in Villepinte, near Paris, France, June 30, 2018. REUTERS/Regis Duvignau/File Photo

U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration has said it expects renewed sanctions to hurt the Iranian economy hard.

Additional reporting by Paris bureau, Maria Sheahan in Frankfurt; Editing by Jon Boyle, William Maclean, Richard Balmforth

Iran says 52 arrested in Thursday’s anti-government protests

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE TIMES OF ISRAEL)

 

Iran says 52 arrested in Thursday’s anti-government protests

Tehran officials say suspects detained for using ‘harsh slogans’ against President Rouhani; demonstrators chanted ‘death to the dictator’

A still from video footage of protestors in Iran's second-largest city demonstrating over rising prices and high unemployment. (Twitter screen capture)

A still from video footage of protestors in Iran’s second-largest city demonstrating over rising prices and high unemployment. (Twitter screen capture)

An Iranian official said Friday that 52 people had been arrested in the previous day’s protests against high prices that highlighted deep-rooted economic problems in Mashhad, the second-largest Iranian city.

Hundreds took to the streets of Mashhad, a site of holy pilgrimage in the northeast of the country, on Thursday, with slogans mostly directed at President Hassan Rouhani’s government for failing to tackle a range of economic problems.

The head of Mashhad’s revolutionary court, Hossein Heidari, said people were arrested for chanting “harsh slogans,” the Fars news agency reported.

“We consider protest to be the people’s right but if some people want to abuse these emotions and ride this wave, we won’t wait and will confront them,” Heidari said.

Videos published by a small reformist media group, Nazar, showed people in Mashhad chanting “Death to Rouhani.”

More provocatively, there were also chants of “Death to the dictator,” and “Not Gaza, not Lebanon, my life for Iran” — a reference to anger in some circles that the government is focusing on the wider region rather than improving conditions at home.

A handout photo provided by the office of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani shows him speaking during a meeting with farmers in Tehran, November 21, 2017. (AFP/Iranian Presidency)

Similar yet smaller protests reportedly took place in a few other cities, responding to calls on the Telegram messaging service for a day of demonstrations to say “no to high prices.”

Egg prices have doubled since last week due to the government’s culling of millions of chickens diagnosed with avian flu, government spokesman Mohammad Bagher Nobakht told reporters on Tuesday.

But the reasons behind the protests were more deeply rooted, according to one local lawmaker.

“There is a major crisis in Mashhad caused by illegal financial institutions,” Hamid Garmabi, who represents the city of Neyshabour near Mashhad, told Fars.

He was referring to the mushrooming of unauthorised lending institutions under former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad between 2005 and 2013. A poorly regulated banking sector combined with a construction boom left many credit companies stuck with toxic debts and unable to repay investors.

Since coming to power in 2013, Rouhani’s government has sought to clean up the financial sector, shutting down three of the biggest new credit institutions — Mizan, Fereshtegan and Samen al-Hojaj.

He has tasked the central bank with reimbursing lost deposits, but progress has reportedly been slow.

Imam Reza Shiite shrine in the Iranian city of Mashhad. (CC BY-SA IA Iahsan, Wikimedia)

Mashhad was one of the worst-hit areas by the closure of Mizan, which had around one million accounts, leading to several protests in the city since 2015, according to the official IRNA news agency.

Other financial scams have also hit the region, notably the collapse in 2015 of a mega project to a build the new town of Padideh next to Mashhad, which left more than 100,000 investors out of pocket.

“The shadow of stagnation in Mashhad and Khorasan Razavi province is more than other places in the country due to the unfortunate investment events in companies such as Padideh, Mizan Financial Institution and other credit funds,” a senior housing official in the province told IRNA last year.

READ MORE:

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)