Iran to U.S.: ‘You should … pay more’ for a new deal

By Parisa Hafezi and Michelle Nichols

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) – Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said on Wednesday that the United States must “pay more” for any agreement that goes beyond the 2015 Iran nuclear deal that Washington abandoned.

Rouhani also appeared to reject meeting U.S. President Donald Trump while the two are in New York this week for the annual United Nations General Assembly and warned world leaders that the Gulf region was on the verge of going up in flames.

“Our response to talks under pressure is no,” Rouhani said in a speech to the U.N. even as the United States increased the pressure by sanctioning Chinese firms for dealing in Iranian oil despite U.S. sanctions.

The U.S.-Iranian confrontation has ratcheted up since last year, when Trump withdrew from Iran’s nuclear deal with major powers and reimposed sanctions that have crippled its economy.

Trump wants an agreement that goes beyond the 2015 nuclear deal and would further curb Iran’s atomic program, restrict its ballistic missile work and end its support for proxy forces in the Middle East.

“If you wish more, if you require more, you should give and pay more,” Rouhani said in his U.N. General Assembly address, without giving details.

In his own speech on Tuesday, Trump accused Iranian leaders of “bloodlust” and called on other nations to put pressure on Iran after Sept. 14 attacks on Saudi oil facilities that Washington blames on Tehran despite its denials.

The United States plans to increase its military presence in Saudi Arabia following the attacks.

Rouhani, however, said the Gulf region is “on the edge of collapse, as a single blunder can fuel a big fire.”

“We shall not tolerate the provocative intervention of foreigners. We shall respond decisively and strongly to any sort of transgression to and violation of our security and territorial integrity,” Rouhani said in his speech.

Trump had said there was still a path to peace and Rouhani, the nuclear pact’s architect has also left the door open to diplomacy, saying that if sanctions were lifted, Washington could join nuclear talks between Tehran and other powers.


Despite the French and British leaders urging Rouhani to meet Trump, an Iranian official told Reuters there was no chance that the U.S. and Iranian presidents would meet this week.

“The chances of a meeting are zero. They know what to do. They should return to the JCPOA, lift sanctions and end this unfair maximum pressure on Iran,” the official said, referring to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) 2015 deal.

“Then, of course, they can join the talks under the deal,” the official, who spoke to Reuters on condition of anonymity, added.

Under the 2015 deal, Iran limited its nuclear program in return for relief from economic sanctions that constricted its ability to trade with the world.

Since abandoning the deal last year, Trump in May tightened sanctions on Iran in an effort to reduce its oil exports – its main source of foreign exchange and government revenues – to zero.

On Wednesday, the United States sanctioned five Chinese people and six entities it accused of knowingly transferring oil from Iran in violation of Washington’s curbs on Tehran. The entities include two Cosco Shipping subsidiaries but not the parent company itself.

While it originally respected the deal despite Trump’s withdrawal, Iran has gradually reduced its compliance and has threatened to block the Strait of Hormuz in the Gulf, through which an estimated one-fifth of the world’s oil passes.

The United States has blamed Iran for a series of actions since May – some of which Iran has denied – that have roiled oil markets, including attacks on half a dozen tankers, shooting down a U.S. drone and the Sept. 14 attacks on Aramco facilities.

The airstrikes on the heartland of Saudi Arabia’s oil industry damaged the world’s biggest petroleum-processing facility and knocked out more than 5% of global oil supply.

Saudi Arabia’s Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Adel al-Jubeir said Riyadh was consulting “with friends and allies about the next steps to take” once an investigation into who was responsible for the attack was complete.

The United States, European powers and Saudi Arabia have blamed the attack on Iran, instead of the Yemeni Iran-aligned Houthi group that claimed responsibility. Iran distanced itself from the attacks but said it was ready for “full-fledged” war.

The confrontation could tip the balance of power in Iran in favor of hard-liners looking to constrain Rouhani’s ability to open up to the West, particularly because Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s aversion to Washington remains a formidable barrier to any diplomatic solution.

In the penultimate sentence of his speech, Rouhani raised the possibility of talks.

“This is the message of the Iranian nation: Let’s invest on hope toward a better future rather than in war and violence. Let’s return to justice; to peace; to law, commitment and promise and finally to the negotiating table,” he said.

(Reporting by Parisa Hafezi and Michelle Nichols; Additional reporting by John Irish, Arshad Mohammed and Humeyra Pamuk; Writing by Arshad Mohammed; editing by Grant McCool)

Turkey calls for ceasefire in Syria’s Idlib, Russia opposes

Russian President Vladimir Putin meets with his Turkish counterpart Tayyip Erdogan in Tehran, Iran September 7, 2018. Kirill Kudryavtsev/Pool via REUTERS

By Babak Dehghanpisheh

(Reuters) – Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan called for a ceasefire in the rebel-held region of Idlib in northwest Syria on Friday and said an anticipated government assault on insurgents there could result in a massacre.

But Russia’s President Vladimir Putin said Moscow opposed a truce, and Iranian leader Hassan Rouhani said Syria must regain control over all its territory.

The three presidents, whose countries’ are key foreign players in Syria’s long civil war, were speaking at a summit in Tehran aimed at charting a way to end the conflict.

The situation in Idlib, the insurgents’ only remaining major stronghold, is an immediate issue as President Bashar al-Assad’s forces, backed by Russia and Iran, prepare for what could be the conflict’s last decisive battle.

The United Nations has warned a full-scale assault could lead to a humanitarian catastrophe.

But as the leaders gathered in Tehran, Russian and Syrian government warplanes hit rebel-held parts of Idlib, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights war monitor said.

Tehran and Moscow have helped Assad turn the course of the war against an array of opponents ranging from Western-backed rebels to Islamist militants, while Turkey is a leading opposition supporter and has troops in the country.

Their discussions in Tehran mark a crucial point in a seven-year-old war which has killed more than half a million people and forced 11 million to flee their homes.

Erdogan called on Putin and Rouhani to agree to a ceasefire in Idlib, saying such an accord would be a “victory” of their summit. Turkey could no longer take in any more refugees from any new assault in Idlib, he said.

However, Putin responded that he opposed a ceasefire because Nusra Front and Islamic State militants located there were not part of peace talks. Syria should regain control of all its territory, he said.

“The fact is that there are no representatives of the armed opposition here around this table. And more still, there are no representatives of Jabhat al-Nusra or ISIS or the Syrian army,” Putin said.

“I think in general the Turkish president is right. It would be good. But I can’t speak for them, and even more so can’t talk for terrorists from Jabhat al-Nusra or ISIS that they will stop shooting or stop using drones with bombs.”


Rouhani also said the battle in Syria would continue until militants were pushed out of the whole country, especially in Idlib, but he added that any military operations should avoid hurting civilians.

He called on all militants in Syria to disarm and seek a peaceful end to the conflict.

“The fight against terrorism in Idlib is an indispensable part of the mission to return peace and stability to Syria, but this fight should not harm civilians and lead to a “scorched-earth” policy,” Rouhani said.

Erdogan also said Turkey no longer had the capacity to take in any more refugees from Syria should the government offensive in Idlib go ahead. Turkey has accepted 3.5 million refugees from Syria since the start of the war in 2011.

“Whatever reason there is an attack that has been made or will be made will result in disaster, massacre and humanitarian drama,” he said. “Millions will be coming to Turkey’s borders because they have nowhere to go. Turkey has filled its capacity to host refugees.”

The Assad government was not directly represented at the summit, nor was the United States or other Western powers.

Widely abhorred internationality for the brutal conduct of the war, Assad has largely reclaimed most of Syrian territory though much of it is ravaged.

As the conflict approaches its endgame, Iran, Turkey and Russia are seeking to safeguard their own interests after investing heavily militarily and diplomatically in Syria.

Meanwhile, the fate of Idlib hung in the balance.

“The battle for Idlib is going to be the final major battle,” said Hilal Khashan, a political science professor at the American University of Beirut, told Reuters before the summit.

“It will be waged irrespective of civilian casualties, even though they will make an effort to minimize it.”

(Reporting By Babak Dehghanpisheh; additional reporting by Laila Bassam in Beirut and Dominic Evans in Istanbul, Editing by Angus MacSwan)

China to host Iran to avoid project disruption amid nuclear deal doubt

FILE PHOTO: Iranian President Hassan Rouhani attends a meeting with Muslim leaders and scholars in Hyderabad, India, February 15, 2018. REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui/File Photo

BEIJING (Reuters) – China will host Iranian President Hassan Rouhani next month at a regional summit aimed at avoiding disruption of joint projects, its foreign ministry said on Monday, as major powers scramble to save Iran’s nuclear deal after the United States pulled out.

Rouhani will pay a working visit to China and attend the summit of the China and Russia-led security bloc the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, the ministry said.

It did not give exact dates for his visit, but the summit is scheduled to be held on the second weekend of June in the northern Chinese city of Qingdao.

Iran is currently an observer member of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, though it has long sought full membership.

“Our hope is that China and Iran will have close consultation on the basis of observing the deal and push forward development of bilateral cooperation,” Chinese deputy foreign minister Zhang Hanhui said at a briefing.

“We should together look into how to avoid major disruption of joint projects between the two sides,” he added.

Russia has previously argued that with Western sanctions against Tehran lifted, it could finally become a member of the bloc which also includes four ex-Soviet Central Asian republics, Pakistan and India.

The 2015 agreement between Iran and world powers lifted international sanctions on Tehran. In return, Iran agreed to restrictions on its nuclear activities, increasing the time it would need to produce an atom bomb if it chose to do so.

Since U.S. President Donald Trump withdrew the United States this month, calling the agreement deeply flawed, European states have been scrambling to ensure Iran gets enough economic benefits to persuade it to stay in the deal.

China has also strongly supported the deal and is one of its signatories.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, as well as the leaders of Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, were also invited to hold official bilateral meetings with Chinese President Xi Jinping during the summit, the foreign ministry said.

The summit, which runs from June 9-10, will attempt to create new agreements on security issues such as counter-terrorism and drug smuggling among the seven member bloc.

Jointly led by Russia and China, the SCO was launched in 2001 to combat radical Islam and other regional security concerns. India and Pakistan became full members last year.

Iran has long eyed an SCO membership and China has said it supports its application.

(Reporting by Christian Shepherd; Writing by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Michael Perry)

Rouhani says Saudis call Iran an enemy to conceal defeat in region

Rouhani says Saudis call Iran an enemy to conceal defeat in region

BEIRUT (Reuters) – Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said on Tuesday that Saudi Arabia presents Iran as an enemy because it wants to cover up its defeats in the region.

“Saudi Arabia was unsuccessful in Qatar, was unsuccessful in Iraq, in Syria and recently in Lebanon. In all of these areas, they were unsuccessful,” Rouhani said in the interview live on state television. “So they want to cover up their defeats.”

The Sunni Muslim kingdom of Saudi Arabia and Shi’ite Iran back rival sides in the wars and political crises throughout the region.

Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince called the Supreme Leader of Iran, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, “the new Hitler of the Middle East” in an interview with the New York Times published last week, escalating the war of words between the arch-rivals.

Tensions soared this month when Lebanon’s Saudi-allied Prime Minister Saad Hariri resigned in a television broadcast from Riyadh, citing the influence of Iran-backed Hezbollah in Lebanon and risks to his life.

Hezbollah called the move an act of war engineered by Saudi authorities, an accusation they denied.

Hariri returned to Lebanon last week and suspended his resignation but has continued his criticism of Hezbollah.

Iran, Iraq, Syria and Russia form a line of resistance in the region that has worked toward stability and achieved “big accomplishments”, Rouhani said in the interview, which was reviewing his first 100 days in office in his second term.

Separately, Rouhani defended his government’s response to an earthquake in western Iran two weeks ago, a major challenges for his administration.

The magnitude 7.3 quake, Iran’s worst in more than a decade, killed at least 530 people and injured thousands. The government’s response has become a lightning rod for Rouhani’s hard-line rivals, who have said the government did not respond adequately or quickly to the disaster.

Supreme Leader Khamenei, the highest authority in Iran, has also criticized the government response.

Hard-line media outlets have highlighted the role played by the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, the most powerful military body in Iran and an economic powerhouse worth billions of dollars, in helping victims of the earthquake.

Government ministries have provided health care for victims and temporary housing has been sent to the earthquake zone, but problems still exist, Rouhani said in the interview.

(Reporting by Babak Dehghanpisheh, Editing by Larry King)

Defying Trump, Iran says will boost missile capabilities

Defying Trump, Iran says will boost missile capabilities

By Bozorgmehr Sharafedin

LONDON (Reuters) – Iran will strengthen its missile capabilities and will not seek any country’s permission, President Hassan Rouhani said on Friday in a snub to demands from U.S. President Donald Trump.

Rouhani was speaking at a military parade where an Iranian news agency said one of the weapons on display was a new ballistic missile with range of 2,000 km (1,200 miles), capable of carrying several warheads.

The Tasnim news agency, which quoted the head of the Revolutionary Guards’ aerospace division, Amirali Hajizadeh, gave few other details of the missile.

At the U.N. General Assembly on Tuesday, Trump said Iran was building its missile capability and accused it exporting violence to Yemen, Syria and other parts of the Middle East.

He also criticized the 2015 pact that the United States and six other powers struck with Iran under which Tehran agreed to restrict its nuclear program in return for relief from economic sanctions.

In a speech broadcast on state television, Rouhani said: “We will increase our military power as a deterrent. We will strengthen our missile capabilities … We will not seek permission from anyone to defend our country.

“All countries in the world supported the nuclear deal in the United Nations General Assembly this year … except the United States and the Zionist regime (Israel),” Rouhani said.

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has said that the agreement must be changed or the United States could not stick with it. Iran has said its nuclear accord cannot be renegotiated.

The prospect of Washington reneging on the deal has worried some of the U.S. allies that helped negotiate it, especially as the world grapples with North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile development.

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said tensions on the Korean peninsula underlined the importance of the Iranian deal, and that China would continue to support it.

Trump put Iran “on notice” in February for test-firing a ballistic missile and imposed new economic sanctions in July over its missile program and “malign activities” in the Middle East.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Thursday that the U.S. imposition of unilateral sanctions on Iran was “illegitimate and undermines the collective nature of international efforts.”

(Reporting by Bozorgmehr Sharafedin; Editing by Robin Pomeroy)

Rouhani says Iran will respond to any new U.S. sanctions

FILE PHOTO: Iran's national flags are seen on a square in Tehran February 10, 2012. REUTERS/Morteza Nikoubazl/File Photo

BEIRUT (Reuters) – Iran will reciprocate if the United States imposes new sanctions on it, president Hassan Rouhani said on Wednesday according to state media, casting further doubt over the outlook for the 2015 Iran nuclear accord.

The U.S. House of Representatives voted on Tuesday to slap new sanctions on Iran, Russia and North Korea, although it was unclear how quickly the bill would make its way to the White House for President Donald Trump to sign into law or veto.

State media quoted Rouhani as citing a verse from the Koran saying: “If the enemy puts part of their promises underfoot then we will also put part of it underfoot. And if they put all of their promises underfoot then we will put promises underfoot.”

But he added: “The Koran also advises that if enemies are really pursuing peace and want to put enmity aside and act appropriately toward you, then you should do the same.”

He said that parliament would take the initial steps in responding to any U.S. moves and that any necessary further steps would also be pursued.

On Tuesday, Trump issued a veiled threat against Iran, warning it to adhere to the terms of the 2015 nuclear deal it signed together with world powers or else face “big, big problems.”

A week after certifying Iran as complying with the agreement negotiated by Democratic President Barack Obama, Trump has made it clear that he remains extremely wary of Tehran.

The Iranian side appears equally wary of Washington, with a senior Revolutionary Guards commander issuing a similar threat in return on Wednesday.

“The Trump government, more than before, should be cautious and precise with their military approach in the Islamic revolution environment,” Brigadier General Masoud Jazayeri, deputy chief of staff of Iran’s armed forces was quoted by the Tasnim news site as saying on Wednesday.

“We will confront any American mischief with a response that will make them sorry,” he said.

The head of the Guards was quoted as saying last week that Washington should move its bases and avoid “miscalculations” over new sanctions against Tehran. The United States has bases in Qatar and Kuwait across the Gulf from Iran, while the U.S. Fifth Fleet is based in nearby Bahrain.

(Reporting by Babak Dehghanpisheh; Editing by Hugh Lawson)

Iran’s Rouhani says new U.S. sanctions violate nuclear accord: state TV

FILE PHOTO: Iranian president Hassan Rouhani gestures during a news conference in Tehran, Iran, May 22, 2017. TIMA via REUTERS/Files

DUBAI (Reuters) – President Hassan Rouhani said on Wednesday new U.S. economic sanctions imposed against Iran contravened the country’s nuclear accord with world powers and he vowed that Tehran would “resist” them, state television reported.

The Trump administration slapped the new sanctions on Iran on Tuesday over its ballistic missile program and said Tehran’s “malign activities” in the Middle East undercut any “positive contributions” coming from the 2015 Iran nuclear accord.

“Some of the actions of the Americans are against the spirit and even the letter of the (nuclear accord). We shall resist these plans and actions,” Iranian state television quoted Rouhani as saying.

“One of the plots of the Americans is to act in such a way that would make Iran say that it is not following its commitments… I think the Americans will fail as we will always respect our international commitments,” Rouhani said.

Iran’s parliament agreed on Tuesday to discuss measures, including increased funding for the missile program, as retaliation for the new U.S. sanctions, state media reported.

The U.S. measures signal that the administration of President Donald Trump is seeking to put more pressure on Iran while keeping in place the agreement between Tehran and six world powers to curb its nuclear program in return for lifting international oil and financial sanctions.

The U.S. government said it was targeting 18 entities and people for supporting what it said was “illicit Iranian actors or transnational criminal activity.”

(Reporting by Dubai newsroom; Editing by Gareth Jones)

Tested on all fronts, Iran’s Rouhani may struggle on reforms

FILE PHOTO: Supporters of Iran's President Hassan Rouhani take part in a campaign rally in Tehran, Iran, May 17, 2017. Picture taken May 17, 2017. TIMA via REUTERS/File Photo

By Parisa Hafezi and Jonathan Saul

ANKARA/LONDON (Reuters) – Growing strains with the United States and political infighting at home threaten Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s plans to expand social freedoms, create jobs and draw in foreign investment, officials and analysts say.

Anti-Western hardliners defeated by Rouhani in the presidential election in May appear determined to take revenge by denying the pragmatic cleric an economic dividend, they believe.

The hardliners’ strategy is to stoke already-simmering tension with Washington and its Gulf Arab allies, injecting fresh political risk into a country that had been seen as a safer bet since its 2015 nuclear deal with world powers.

“To weaken Rouhani, they will try all possible ways, from provoking hawks in Washington to imposing more political limitations at home … and isolating Iran economically,” said a senior official who asked not to be named.

“Rouhani will have very challenging months ahead.”

U.S. President Donald Trump, during a May 20-21 visit to Saudi Arabia, called Iran a threat to countries across the Middle East.

Rouhani later urged “moderation and rationality” in international relations. But Iran’s hardline Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei struck a more combative note, saying Saudi Arabia’s leaders faced “certain downfall” due to their alliance with Washington.

A week later the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), the Shi’ite country’s most powerful military force, upped the ante, disclosing it had built a third underground ballistic missile production factory and would keep developing its missile program – a project strongly opposed by Washington and its Gulf allies like Saudi Arabia.


In recent months, the Guards have stepped up support for the rebel Houthi movement in Yemen, where they are waging a proxy war with Sunni Muslim Saudi Arabia. They have increased funding and arming of militia groups in Syria and Iraq, while continuing to back traditional ally Hezbollah of Lebanon.

IRGC naval vessels have repeatedly been in tense encounters with U.S. warships in the Gulf and Strait of Hormuz, through which a third of all oil shipping passes.

The escalating regional tensions will increase the nervousness of potential foreign investors, many of whom were already keeping Iranian ambitions on hold due to worries about red tape or a possible restoration of sanctions if Iran violates the nuclear deal.

“Rouhani will continue to solicit the return of foreign businesses … to Iran without providing them with a much-needed change in behavior to boost their confidence,” said senior Iran analyst Behnam Ben Taleblu of the Washington-based Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

Karim Sadjadpour, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment, said that with the anti-Iran Trump in the White House there was less pressure on Iran’s hardliners to justify their animosity toward the U.S.

“Iran’s regional strategy has been consistent for four decades, regardless of who is president of the country. Opposition to the U.S. and Israel hasn’t changed, and opposition to Saudi Arabia has intensified,” he said.

The lifting of sanctions in 2016 partly reconnected Iran with the international financial system crucial to trade, but lingering unilateral U.S. sanctions tied to human rights and terrorism have spooked many potential investors.

“Large international banks won’t (get involved) because of the U.S. exposure, the size of the past penalties and their ongoing U.S. business and assets,” said Andreas Schweitzer, senior managing partner of London-based Arjan Capital.

Then there are the domestic tensions.

First elected in 2013 on a pledge to ease Iran’s diplomatic isolation, Rouhani spent much of his political capital on the nuclear deal, which resulted in a lifting of most sanctions in return for curbs on Tehran’s nuclear program.In that effort, he enjoyed the guarded support of Khamenei. But now, under heightened pressure in his second term to widen economic opportunities for Iran’s youth, Rouhani can no longer be sure of the supreme leader’s backing.

After a campaign featuring outspoken attacks on security and judicial hardliners and calling for a speedier opening to the world, Rouhani trounced Khamenei’s perceived favorite in the election, irking the IRGC, Khamenei’s ally.


Andrine Skjelland, MENA country risk analyst, BMI Research, said the president’s rhetoric had deepened “divisions between himself and the hardline elite”.

Sidelined by the nuclear deal, the Guards are trying to claw back economic clout by accusing Rouhani of favoring foreign firms over domestic ones, praising Khamenei’s vision of a self-reliant economy that avoids foreign investment.

“Domestic political instability will impact foreign investors … It will deter the investors from returning to Iran,” said Meir Javdanfar, an Iranian-born expert on Iran at the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya in Israel.

Under U.S. and EU sanctions, the Guards took over billion-dollar projects vacated by Western oil companies.

Their influence can be felt across Iran’s economy – from port operations to oil. They are estimated to have a presence in 80 percent of business interests in the country.

“Rouhani’s re-election will put the IRGC on a bigger collision path with him,” Javdanfar said. “His voters wanted moderation, while the IRGC wants to expand its reach abroad and to become more confrontational with the West.”

Senior members of the IRGC and its front companies remain under U.S. sanctions. Most IRGC front companies, however, are not formally owned by the Corps, but by firms linked to it.

Foreign companies need an Iranian partner to do business in Iran, which for big projects often means IRGC-controlled firms.

“Many businessmen are still suffering from the lack of an economic revival in Iran. They will happily accept being the IRGC’s shell companies,” said a trader in Tehran.

Khamenei has been adept at ensuring that no group, even among hardline allies, becomes powerful enough to challenge his authority. Displeased with Rouhani’s rising popularity, he will not back the president in his economic battle with the IRGC.

“It is a vicious circle. More economic involvement of the Guards means less foreign investors and vice versa,” said a former reformist minister.

(Editing by William Maclean and Andrew Roche)

Rouhani faces pressure to improve human rights in Iran

FILE PHOTO: Iranian president assan Rouhani attends a news conference in Tehran, Iran, May 22, 2017. TIMA via REUTERS

By Babak Dehghanpisheh

BEIRUT (Reuters) – In the week before the May 19 presidential election in Iran, the eventual victor, Hassan Rouhani, criticised the judiciary and the powerful Revolutionary Guards with rhetoric rarely heard in public in the Islamic republic.

Now, in the eyes of his supporters, it is time to deliver. Millions of Rouhani’s followers expect him to keep pushing on human rights issues.

“The majority of Iranians have made it clear that they want improvement on human rights,” said Hadi Ghaemi, the director of the Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI), a New York-based advocacy group. “Expectations are running high.”

That message came through loud and clear shortly before Rouhani, who won re-election with more than 57 percent of the vote, took the stage at a gathering of supporters in Tehran last week.

“Ya Hussein, Mirhossein” went the thunderous chant, a reference to Mirhossein Mousavi, a presidential candidate in the 2009 election, who, along with fellow candidate Mehdi Karroubi disputed the results, spurring widespread protests.

Dozens of protestors were killed and hundreds arrested in the crackdown that followed, according to human rights groups.

Mousavi, his wife Zahra, and Karroubi, were placed under house arrest in 2011 after calling for protests in Iran in solidarity with pro-democracy uprisings across the Middle East.

The trio’s continued detention is a divisive political issue in Iran and one that Rouhani has promised to resolve.

But if he keeps pushing, he will face a backlash from his hardline opponents which could undermine his second term, analysts say.


At the rally, it took several minutes for the announcer to quiet the crowd before another chant broke out: “Our message is clear, house arrest must be broken”.

Along with those arrests, more than 20 journalists and activists were arrested in the lead-up to the elections according to CHRI, an issue which has also been raised by Rouhani supporters.

Many political prisoners are kept in solitary confinement and not allowed to see their families for long periods of time, according to human rights groups.

Iran has one of world’s highest rates of capital punishment. At least 530 people were executed in 2016, according to a United Nations report.

Rouhani’s supporters also expect him to fight for basic rights that affect their daily lives, like preventing security forces from harassing women for the way they dress or the judiciary from cancelling concerts.

During his first term, Rouhani made the signing of an agreement with Western powers, which lifted a large number of sanctions in exchange for curbs on Iran’s nuclear program, his top priority.

As a result, human rights issues were sidelined, analysts say. But now that the nuclear agreement is being implemented, his supporters are waiting for change.

Rouhani’s decisive election win may have finally given him the opportunity to address human rights issues.

“As the head of the executive branch, Mr. Rouhani and his colleagues must use this opportunity to the maximum,” parliamentarian Gholamreza Tajgardoon said last week, according to the Iranian Labour News Agency (ILNA).

But signs are emerging that hardliners are ready for a fight.

Iran’s judiciary chief hit back at Rouhani on Monday for bringing up the issue of the house arrest of opposition leaders during his campaign.

“Who are you to break the house arrests?” Larijani said without naming Rouhani, according to the judiciary news site Mizan.

Larijani said the Supreme National Security Council must take the initial decision to end the house arrests and then the judiciary would step in.

Any attempt to resolve this issue outside this legal procedure would be seen as an attempt to stoke up unrest similar to 2009, he said, according to Mizan.

“We’re issuing a warning that they should wrap this issue up otherwise the judiciary, with authority, will wrap this issue up itself,” Larijani said.

Meanwhile, the restrictions continue.

Karroubi, 79, served as speaker of parliament before running for president in 2005 and 2009. He now stays largely on the upper floor of his house in Tehran and gets exercise by walking indoors, according to his son Mohammad Taghi. His only sources of information are local newspapers and state TV.

Security agents stay on the premises around the clock and do not allow him to have access to the phone or Internet.

Taghi, speaking by telephone, said the hosue arrest had

backfired, raising the profile and importance of his father and the other detainees.

“If the goal is to cut off their political ties, what we’ve seen is that the passage of these six or seven years hasn’t had any effect,” he said. “In fact, the limitations and problems have increased their impact in society.”

Little progress can be made on any human rights issue without the approval of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the highest power in the country.

“Since becoming Supreme Leader in 1989, Khamenei has sought to weaken every Iranian president in their second term,” said Karim Sadjadpour, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment.

“Given how directly Rouhani challenged Khamenei during the campaign this tradition is likely to continue.”

(Reporting By Babak Dehghanpisheh; Editing by Angus MacSwan)

After Rouhani re-election, expect hardliners to ‘settle scores’

Iran's President Hassan Rouhani waves to supporters at a polling station during the presidential election in Tehran, Iran, May 19, 2017. via REUTERS

By Parisa Hafezi

DUBAI (Reuters) – Iranians yearning for detente abroad and greater freedoms at home have handed President Hassan Rouhani a second term, but the hardline forces he defeated in elections on Friday will remain defiantly opposed to his plans.

Rouhani built his resounding win in Friday’s presidential election by promising more economic opportunities for Iran’s youth, as well as social justice, individual freedoms and political tolerance.

He also picked a rare public fight with hardliners close to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, angrily criticizing their favorite in the race, Ebrahim Raisi, a judge seen by reformists as representing the security state at its most fearsome.

The Revolutionary Guards (IRGC), the country’s most powerful security force, are unlikely to forget his attacks, which played to widespread frustration with a state that controls how Iranians speak, gather and dress.

During one rally Rouhani referred to hardliners as “those who cut out tongues and sewed mouths shut”.

“Rouhani will face more pressure in his second term. The Revolutionary Guards and other deep state organizations will create more problems for him,” said Meir Javedanfar, an Iranian-born Israeli lecturer on Iran at the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya in Israel.

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

One way the Guards could re-assert their dominance at home would be to stoke more confrontation abroad, where they provide the shock troops for Iran’s interventions in Iraq, Syria and elsewhere in the Middle East.

“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,” said Javedanfar.


Rouhani’s allies say he still has the wherewithal to deliver progress. An insider from within the upper echelons of power, he has worked with the supreme leader Khamenei for decades.

“As the economy is among Khamenei’s top priorities, Khamenei will be obliged to give limited backing to Rouhani’s liberal economic policy like the cautious support he gave to the nuclear deal,” said an official, close to Rouhani’s government.

Rouhani, first elected in a landslide in 2013 on a promise to reduce Iran’s diplomatic isolation, spent most of his political capital in his first term on a nuclear agreement with six powers that resulted in a lifting of most sanctions in return for curbs on Tehran’s nuclear program.

Domestic social reforms were largely ignored. But in his second term Rouhani will be under more pressure from his followers to deliver on changes at home. He has now contributed to that pressure himself by campaigning hard as a reformist, particularly in the final days.

“Clearly it’s going to be difficult to back down on some of this stuff,” said Abbas Milani, director of the Iranian Studies program at Stanford University.

Milani noted “the challenges he gave to the IRGC” as well as promises to release reformist leaders held under house arrest. “All of these are going to put him on a confrontation path if not a collision course with the conservatives,” he said.

The internal power struggle in the Islamic Republic is not just a philosophical argument between reformists and hardliners, but a battle to preserve the dominance of a theocratic establishment with vested interests and privileges.

The Revolutionary Guards have an extensive business empire to protect, and believe opening up to the West could lead to regime change. Given the importance of the Guards to the clerical leadership, few Iranians harbor high hopes that Rouhani will to fulfill all his promises.

“Rouhani will likely be unwilling or unable to push back against hardliners…. Those who want real change … will once again — and most unfortunately — be stuck between a rock and a hard place,” said Behnam Ben Taleblu, a senior Iran analyst at Washington-based Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

Still, the prospect of victory by Raisi, who was one of four judges in the 1980s that approved the death sentences of thousands of political prisoners, was enough to drive even doubtful Iranians out to vote for Rouhani in force.

“Iranians are perhaps not overly optimistic that Rouhani can move the country forward, but at least he didn’t want to drive the country backward,” Karim Sadjadpour, senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment who focuses on Iran, told Reuters.

(Additional reporting by Babak Dehghanpisheh; editing by William Maclean and Peter Graff)