Iran Reformists Calling For Diplomacy To Ease Sanctions
Iranian reformist and centrist figures are stepping up demands for Iran to start negotiations, including with the United States, to lift sanctions that have taken Iran into a third year of economic contraction. Mohsen Hashemi, chairman of Tehran City Council, told the annual congress of the reformist party Nedaye Iranian (Iranians’ Voice) on Thursday that Iran needed action “similar to accepting UN Resolution 598 that ended the eight-year-long war between Iran and Iraq.”
In July 1988, Iran’s then leader Ruhollah Khomeini finally accepted the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) resolution of July 1987 demanding a ceasefire to end the eight-year Iran-Iraq war with no territorial changes, a decision Khomeini compared to drinking a “chalice of poison.” Hashemi’s father, the late Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, then parliamentary speaker and war commander, led those supporting the ceasefire.
Khomeini was persuaded both by military commanders, aware of Iraq’s use of chemical weapons and growing US involvement including shooting down an Iranian passenger plane, and financial advisers telling him the economy was struggling with around 50% male unemployment by 1987.
Hashemi also called on Thursday for improving Iran’s ties with its Gulf neighbors to bring economic improvement. During recent years, tension between Iran and Persian Gulf states - Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and the United Arab Emirates - have centered on supporting opposing sides in Syria and Yemen, as well as differences over Iraq. The Gulf states have expressed varying levels of support for the US ‘maximum pressure’ on Iran after US President Donald Trump in 2018 abandoned the 2015 Iran nuclear deal and imposed draconian sanctions.
During the same party congress, former housing minister Abbas Akhondi talked about “the looming shadow of a war,” an expression often used by President Hassan Rouhani to justify attempts to initiate a dialogue with the United States.
Adding to voices supporting Rouhani, who wants to revive the 2015 nuclear deal now that Trump is leaving office, Hamid Aboutalebi, a former adviser to the president, criticized Saeed Jalili, Iran’s nuclear negotiator 2007-13, for suggesting in an interview published on the website of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei that a US return to the agreement “without lifting the sanctions against Iran would lead to losses for Tehran.”
“The sanctions are the outcome of your refusal to engage with America,” Aboutalebi wrote in a Tweet. “This led to 802 sanctions. Others’ refusal to negotiate gave way to another 751 sanctions… Isn’t it time to start negotiations to lift these 1,500 paralyzing sanctions? Isn’t it time to come to the conclusion that negotiating and holding talks are not a taboo?"
Jalili led several rounds of fruitless talks with Europe over Iran’s nuclear program before being removed in 2013, and was heavily defeated by Rouhani in the 2013 election. Aboutalebi, who was one of the students who occupied the US embassy in Tehran in 1979, was refused a UN visa when Iran appointed him envoy to the UN in 2013.
Trump’s withdrawal from the 2015 nuclear agreement, which was endorsed by a UNSC resolution the US voted for, has strengthened the argument of Iranian opponents of the JCPOA, including Jalili, that Washington cannot be trusted whoever sits in the White House.
Although calls from within Iran's reformist camp to restore ties with the US are not unprecedented, still hearing more than one voice in a day could indicate a concerted attempt on the part of the Rouhani camp to raise the issue.