Rouhani Under Growing Pressure With US Sanctions, ‘Death to the Dictator’ Protests

By Patrick Goodenough | August 6, 2018 | 4:14am EDT
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani is due to address the nation on Monday, as the first of the U.S. sanctions being reinstituted as a result of the U.S. withdrawal from the nuclear deal come into effect. (Photo: Iran Presidency)

( – As the first U.S. sanctions that were lifted under the 2015 Iran nuclear deal resume on Monday, President Hassan Rouhani has agreed to appear on state television and in parliament to address concerns about a deepening crisis, including ongoing anti-regime demonstrations where a protestor was shot dead late last week.

Amid chants of “death to the dictator” and similar slogans directed at the regime, protestors in a number of cities have been demonstrating every night for the past week, with Tehran, Shiraz, Isfahan, Mashhad, Karaj, and even the holy Shi’ite city of Qom among those affected, according to Radio Farda and other reports, and video clips posted on social media.

Citing sources inside the country, an exiled Iranian opposition movement claimed that a young man named Reza Otadi was shot dead by “security forces” during protests in Karaj, a city near Tehran which has witnesses clashes for several consecutive nights.

Official media outlets also reported on the death, but Fars news agency said the man was killed “when someone fired a gun from a passing car,” and Tasnim news agency quoted the provincial prosecutor as saying he was “killed by rioters.”

Interior Ministry spokesman Salman Sameti said Sunday “foreigners” were masterminding the protests, and warned that those violating the law by “storming public assets” would face legal action.

The IRNA state news agency quoted him as saying while some people were protesting economic difficulties, most were using the economic problems as a pretext to seek “chaos.”

Rouhani is expected to address the nation on Monday night local time, to discuss the crisis, which has also seen the national currency, the rial, plummet in value amid fears of the effects of the restoration of U.S. sanctions.

In a statement of his official website, Rouhani also said he has informed the parliamentary speaker that although the timing and conditions were not suitable, he will appear before parliament “in due course” to answer lawmakers’ questions, “in order to avoid any kind of disagreement among the branches” of government.

Unhappiness over rising prices, corruption, the handling of protests and other issues have prompted scores of lawmakers to sign a demand for the president to appear to answer questions.

State media say it is the first time parliament has summoned Rouhani, who became president five years ago this month. In an earlier attempt to allay unhappiness and stem the currency slide that saw the rial lose nearly two-thirds of its value in six months, Rouhani replaced the governor of the Central Bank.

President Trump, who recently expressed a willingness to meet with Rouhani “with no preconditions,” said in a tweet on Saturday, “Iran, and its economy, is going very bad, and fast! I will meet, or not meet, it doesn’t matter – it is up to them!”

In a message on its Farsi-language Twitter feed a day earlier, the State Department said, “while it is ultimately up to the people of Iran to determine their country’s path, America supports the voice of the people of Iran, who have been ignored for a long time.”

Almost 40 years after the Islamic revolution, the department in the tweet voiced the hoped that the next 40 years would not be marked by repression and fear, but by freedom.

‘They’ve got to behave like a normal country’

As a result of Trump’s withdrawal from the nuclear deal, starting Monday the U.S. is reimposing sanctions targeting trade in gold and other precious metals and the automotive sector, as well as purchases of U.S. dollars.

A second phase, in November, will take aim at the more significant energy and banking sectors, in a bid to choke off oil exports that are vital to the Iranian economy.

The aim is to force the regime to end destabilizing policies and actions in the region.

“They’re the world’s largest state sponsor of terror,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told an Indonesian television station on Sunday. “That’s what America is trying to get Iran to stop doing – that’s the behavioral change that we’re looking for from the Iranian regime.”

Asked about Trump’s stated readiness to meet with Rouhani, Pompeo said, “the president has always said he is prepared to talk, but it’s important that Iran has to be committed to changing its ways in order for those discussions to prove of any value.”

“They’ve got to behave like a normal country,” Pompeo told reporters as he flew home from a southeast Asia visit later in the day. “That’s the ask. It’s pretty simple.”

He added that there was no evidence yet that the regime wants to do so.

Trump and Rouhani are expected to be in New York at the same time for the annual high-level U.N. General Assembly opening next month, prompting speculation that – despite the regime’s negative response to the offer – the two may meet on the sidelines of the U.N. events.

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