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What Would You Ask Rouhani and Zarif If You Could?

September 16, 2016
Questions for Messrs Rouhani and Zarif
4 min read
What Would You Ask Rouhani and Zarif If You Could?

Next week, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif will participate in the 71st session of the UN General Assembly. Speeches by world leaders are scheduled to start on September 20. And, like every other year, they will host news conferences and answer questions from the press.

I asked the journalist Reza Alijani, a pro-democracy activist and former political prisoner, what questions he would ask Rouhani and Zarif if he were given the chance. Then we came up with answers we thought they were likely to give.

This is the third in IranWire’s series on what people would like to ask Rouhani and Zarif at the UN General Assembly — and how the two statesmen would be likely to respond.

by Aida Ghajar

Mr. President, one of your most prominent promises during the 2013 election campaign was to solve people’s economic problems. That is why, in spite of some opposition on the domestic front, the nuclear negotiations went forward and, with the support of the supreme leader, led to an agreement to end sanctions. But after that, just at the time when you needed foreign investment to leave economic recession behind, the opponents of the nuclear agreement in the West and in the region became very active. Domestic sabotage was intensified as well.

The important point, however, was that the supreme leader also added his voice to these sharply critical positions in foreign policy, and the questioning of what the nuclear agreement has achieved. Now that you have traveled half the way toward putting the economic house of Iran in order, what are your plans for the rest of the way, especially given the supreme leader’s foreign policy positions? Don’t you think they have all banded together to make you a one-term president by sabotaging your efforts to improve the economy?

We have already cleared the way for solving many of our country’s economic problems by our reasonable but assertive negotiations with the group of P5+1 countries. Many of the economic indicators, like the economic growth rate, the oil exports and others show this, and we are trying to forge ahead in the same direction. One example is the the agreement with FATF [Financial Action Task Force on Money Laundering]. Right now, many governments and private companies have announced their readiness to invest in Iran.

We know that the political power in Iran is distributed between the supreme leader, the government and other institutions such as the Revolutionary Guards and parliament. The executive power is supposed to rest with your government. But, especially in foreign policy (and in domestic economic policy as well), it seems that a crucial part of power is not exercised by the government. In places like Iraq, Lebanon and Syria, it is the Quds Force which is at the helm of foreign policy. It appears that the Quds Force takes it directives from the supreme leader directly and its commander does not even report to the commander of the Revolutionary Guards. Their policies are different from those proclaimed by Mr. Zarif, your foreign minister. Do you have a solution for these conflicts, a way of returning decision making to the government and the foreign ministry?

The distribution of power and decision making in Iran are clearly defined by the law and we all obey the law. Our military defends our security and national interests and we coordinate through the Supreme National Security Council.

You know very well that besides the one-way trade of exporting goods to Iran, long-term foreign investment in Iran has not been very successful. This is largely due to the positions of the supreme leader and actions by the Revolutionary Guards inside Iran and in the region. Examples are the missile tests, the slogans for wiping Israel off the map or the direct interference of General Soleimani, the commander of the Quds Force, in Bahrain affairs. Don’t you think there will be no willingness for investing in Iran until foreign investors can have confidence that the country speaks with one voice and their investments will not vanish into the thin air in a turbulent country like Iran and in an unstable region like the Middle East?

The nuclear deal was a golden page in Iran’s history. It will create stability and security in the region. The economy is being restored, but it will take time. The resistance economy will materialize with action, planning and without slogans.

In August, the website of Ayatollah Montazeri released an audio file when he was Ayatollah Khomeini’s deputy. In the tape, Montazeri calls people responsible for the mass executions of 1988 “criminals” in no uncertain terms. One of the names that came to the fore after the audio file was released was that Mr. Mostafa Pourmohammadi, your justice minister. Didn’t Ayatollah Montazeri’s characterization affect you enough to ask him questions about it, at least at the level that Ali Montazeri, the deputy speaker of the parliament, has asked? Did you consider removing him from office? He has said that he carried out God’s verdict and that his conscience is clear and he rests peacefully at night. Does a young seminary student like Mr. Pourmohammadi understand God’s verdict, and did Ayatollah Montazeri  not understand it? 

This dispute goes back to three decades before my administration. Mr. Pourmohammadi has offered his own explanations.


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