x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Iran will ‘shatter’ sanctions, says Rouhani

Hundreds of thousands gather in Tehran to mark the 35th anniversary of the Islamic Republic and hear Hassan Rouhani’s most important public address since his election in August 2013.

An Iranian girl shows her hand painted with Iran's national flag during a ceremony marking the 35th anniversary of the 1979 Islamic revolution, at the Azadi (Freedom) square in Tehran on February 11, 2014. Abedin Taherkenareh/EPA
An Iranian girl shows her hand painted with Iran's national flag during a ceremony marking the 35th anniversary of the 1979 Islamic revolution, at the Azadi (Freedom) square in Tehran on February 11, 2014. Abedin Taherkenareh/EPA

TEHRAN // President Hassan Rouhani told vast crowds celebrating the 35th anniversary of the founding of the Islamic Republic on Tuesday that Iran’s economic suffering was almost over.

Hundreds of thousands of people gathered in Tehran’s Azadi Square to hear Mr Rouhani’s most important public address since his election in August 2013.

The leader, who promised to end international sanctions by negotiating a resolution to a 10-year dispute with world powers over Iran’s nuclear programme, said his conciliatory foreign policy had made Iran’s situation calmer.

“There is more economic, social and political stability,” he told the crowd before calling for western powers to commit to a “fair and constructive attitude” in the next round of talks.

The state-sponsored event marks the anniversary of the revolution that ousted the US-backed shah and the return from exile of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini in February 1979.

This year’s celebrations took place in a new political climate fostered by Mr Rouhani’s election and was in stark contrast to previous years when Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, his hardline predecessor, would use the occasion to taunt western powers over Iran’s nuclear programme.

While there was still the customary burning of the American flag and chants of death to America and Israel, there was a tangible shift in sentiment from some segments of the crowd.

“People are happier. People here today belong to various levels of society. Regardless of their political or religious backgrounds, they just came to support Rouhani’s measures for greater change,” said Vida, 47, from western Tehran, who took part in the rally with her daughter and husband.

“Economic changes are the most important demands of these people,” she said.

With Iran’s economy stagnated after years of tough sanctions, Iranians are hopeful that Mr Rouhani’s engagement with the West over Tehran’s nuclear programme will ease their suffering.

Iran came to an interim agreement in November with world powers to limit its nuclear activities for partial sanctions relief. Talks are due to resume next week in Vienna with the P5+1 group of world powers to reach a permanent accord. The West has accused Iran of attempting to develop a nuclear weapon, something Tehran has repeatedly denied.

For Mr Rouhani, the talks are crucial to tackling Iran’s economic woes.

Iran’s inflation rate, which reached approximately 40 per cent last year, will drop to 25 per cent in the next Iranian year, which starts in March, he said. The petrochemical, insurance and banking industries are already benefiting from eased sanctions, he said, promising to “bring back an economic boom.”

“The government will do its utmost and take any necessary action to shatter the brutal sanctions,” the president told his audience.

The nuclear talks and sanctions relief dominated conversation among the crowds yesterday in Azadi Square, where there was a more relaxed atmosphere than in previous years. Loud music blared from speakers and families gathered around various state-sponsored entertainment and information stalls offering singing contests to children and revolutionary books to adults.

In the build-up to the event, which is the most important political occasion each year, state TV encouraged people to participate in outdoor celebrations and form massive public rallies all over the country, especially in Tehran to support its ruling system.

A video clip was broadcast showing US president, Barack Obama, speaking of all options being on the table against Iran, including military strikes.

The video insisted on high turnout from Iranian citizens and called their support an essential asset and main “option” of the Islamic Republic in its confrontation with the hostility of the West and in particular the US.

The foreign minister and leading nuclear negotiator Mohammed Javad Zarif also asked people for a high turnout in national rallies and called it “the best support for the negotiating team in its upcoming nuclear talks.”

“The new round of talks will be difficult and intensive due to mistrust of Iranians to the US and its policies,” Mr Zarif said Monday on state TV.

Despite Mr Zarif’s statements, mistrust still ran deep amid the crowds.

“We don’t trust America. It changes its attitude every time. All enemies want is to plunder Iran’s wealth”, said Sadeq Ebadi, a 30 year-old member of Iran’s Bassij militia.

“We are fine with enduring the difficulties of sanctions, because it will lead to the preservation of our nuclear rights. We ask the president and Zarif not to agree to stop our nuclear activity.” Mr Ebadi said. He was gathered with a group of university students, who waved a banner reading: “We are ready for the great battle.”

foreign.desk@thenational.ae

*With additional reporting from Bloomberg