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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 22 November 2018

Oil prices force Rouhani to seek help from an ‘unbelievable’ source

Arabic language media discuss Iran's internal pressures, featuring Al Hayat and Asharq Al Awsat.
Iranian president Hassan Rouhani has sought help from an unorthodox source. Photo: Mohammad Berno / AP
Iranian president Hassan Rouhani has sought help from an unorthodox source. Photo: Mohammad Berno / AP

As the nuclear talks with Iran stumble on with another extension until July, Iranian president Hassan Rouhani is stressing that these talks are a “matter of heart”. At the same time, he is facing domestic opposition about the openness of his administration.

Elias Harfoush, writing in the pan-Arab daily Al Hayat said that Mr Rouhani is now more than a third of the way through his four-year term and has “tried to convey a different image of the country from that of the days of his predecessor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, that of a country practising openness towards countries in the region and outside it”. This particularly applied to western countries.

The impression that Mr Rouhani seeks to portray is of “a country that is willing to conform to international law and deal with inherited contradictions and differences in a manner that respects the right to difference and plurality of views”, he wrote.

“He wants his country to become a ‘modern’ state, to reach maturity, 35 years after the revolution, which will enable its political institutions to function as smoothly and naturally as institutions in other countries.”

Mr Rouhani’s recent statement at an economic forum in Tehran must be considered in this context. He called for the application of an article in the Iranian Constitution established in 1979 that stipulates the right of the executive to “ask fundamental questions concerning people’s lives through referendum, rather than referring them to the consultative council”. Such a step must be seen in the context of the current struggle between the Iranian president and internal opposition.

“President Rouhani somewhat succeeded in restoring the image of Iran, to some extent, but he was unable to achieve any real changes internally and externally,” he added.

He concluded that Major Gen Qassem Suleimani, Iran’s spymaster and the commander of its Quds Force, “is still the de facto ruler when it comes to Iranian policy in Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Lebanon”.

Negotiators in Vienna still place more importance on the words of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on the nuclear talks than the words of foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, he noted.

Salman Al Dossari, editor-in-chief of the pan-Arab daily Asharq Al Awsat, wrote that with the recent global drop in oil prices had prompted Tehran to call for help from an “unbelievable” quarter. “Not from Russia, its strategic ally, nor from Iraq, its partner and friend. Nor from Venezuela or Turkey or even Oman or Qatar. But from Saudi Arabia,” he wrote.

“It called upon none other than its political rival to request urgent intervention, asking the kingdom to ‘take measures to prevent market recession’ that would otherwise affect countries in the Middle East due to the drop in global oil prices.

“Iran hopes for Saudi intervention in the shortest possible time in the face of the crisis.

“What induced such dramatic change in the Iranian position? It is true that the collapse of global oil prices dealt the Iranian economy a hard blow. It is also true that the internal situation in Iran has cast its shadow over political decisions and that the adventures of the Iranian regime, particularly in Syria, have drained the Iranian treasury.

“However, we expected all scenarios except the one that presents a rescue plan for the Iranian economy through Riyadh,” he explained.

“Iran could have turned to the United States, as it has in the past and often does. It could have turned to its Russian neighbour and partner in the defence of the Assad regime. But Saudi Arabia? That is what Iran’s friends did not expect.”

He concluded that “the only truth before us is that Iran stands in the midst of a severe economic crisis, hoping for the kingdom to come to the rescue, whereas it will not”.

Translated by Carla Mirza

cmirza@thenational.ae