Iranian regime controlled media loudly broadcast remarks made by Hassan Rouhani at a ceremony marking National Exports Day in Tehran in which he called for peaceful co-existence with the rest of the world and Iran’s neighbors.
No, this was not an April’s Fool joke come early, nor was it an attempt at early Halloween gallows humor.
Rouhani was making his appeal because the world has not reacted well to the regime’s militant and aggressive moves since a nuclear agreement was reach over 18 months ago. There has arisen significant uncertainty among foreign companies, institutional investors and many governments over entering into business agreements at a time when new sanctions may be coming.
Rouhani was making his appeal on a strictly commercial basis in which he hoped to see Iran enter the global marketplace as a significant consumer market, as well as an eventual exporter of goods.
According to Trend News Agency, “Iran has no choice other than forming a constructive interaction with the world in order to boost its export,” he said.
He further said that constructive interaction with the world means establishing suitable ties with global community for exports, and import of capital goods and raw materials as well as employment of youth.
There is good reason for Rouhani and his fellow mullahs to be worried. Iran’s economy remains stagnant, with little benefits trickling down to ordinary Iranians as promised by Rouhani. Youth unemployment remains staggeringly high and wages have not risen significantly in over a decade leading to widespread discontent and protests throughout Iran.
Scandals involving excessive compensation for high-placed executives at regime-controlled industries have rocked Rouhani’s term, as does a high-profile crackdown against journalists, students, artists, bloggers, dissidents, and religious and ethnic minorities.
The mullahs’ “morals” police squads are working overtime arresting and abusing everyone from Iranian women riding bicycles to Iranian youth congregating in coffee shops.
But what has most foreign companies and investors worried is the regime’s rapid escalation in its involvement in three widening proxy wars in Syria, Iraq and Yemen, in which US armed forces are increasingly being drawn into direct conflict with Iranian and Iranian-backed forces.
In Yemen, Iranian regime-backed Houthi rebels reportedly fired cruise missiles at US warships three times in one week; resulting a response from the US of three cruise missiles hitting radar installations in Yemen.
US Army Gen. Joseph Votel, commander of US forces in the Middle East, said on Wednesday that he believes Iran was behind the missile strikes on US Navy ships in Yemen.
“I do think that Iran is playing a role in some of this. They have a relationship with the Houthis, so I do suspect there is a role in that,” said Votel at the Center for American Progress, The Hill’s Kristina Wong reports.
Now news reports have surfaced detailing how the Iranian regime has stepped up weapons transfers to the Houthis threatening to widen and prolong the now 19-month-old war.
Much of the recent smuggling activity has been through Oman, which neighbors Yemen, including via overland routes that take advantage of porous borders between the two countries, the officials said.
U.S. and Western officials who spoke to Reuters about the recent trend in arms transfers said it was based on intelligence they had seen but did not elaborate on its nature. They said the frequency of transfers on known overland smuggling routes had increased notably, though the scale of the shipments was unclear.
A senior Iranian diplomat confirmed a “sharp surge in Iran’s help to the Houthis in Yemen” since May, referring to weapons, training and money.
“The nuclear deal gave Iran an upper hand in its rivalry with Saudi Arabia, but it needs to be preserved,” the diplomat said.
Ironically, the timing of the increased flow of cash and arms to the Houthis coincides with the ransom payments of $1.7 billion made to the Iranian regime by the US to free four American hostages.
Meanwhile in Syria, the growing failure of repeated cease-fires have placed US personnel dangerously close to being targeted by Russian and Syrian airstrikes, as well as facing Shiite militias imported from Iraq by Iranian airliners to fight alongside Syrian forces against US-backed rebels.
It is against this backdrop of global uncertainty that Rouhani is making one of the most absurd sales pitches anyone can recall since it is exactly because of the Iranian regime’s acts that have made many companies and investors skittish at risking billions of dollars.
That idea of co-existence draws little weight as Rouhani himself has admitted that the regime does not recognize dual national citizens and is in the midst of an unprecedented binge of hostage-taking of US, British, Canadian and other citizens.
Even more disturbing has been taunting statements made on regime-controlled websites demanding “billions in cash” as ransom payments for these new hostages.
Even Rouhani has taken a personal hand in tightening the figurative noose among his fellow Iranians by firing Minister of Culture and Islamic Guidance Ali Jannati, Education Minister Ali Asghar Fani and Minister of Youth Affairs and Sports Mahmoud Goudarzi all on the same day.
It’s interesting to note that all three ministers oversaw parts of Iranian society which enjoyed a bit more creative freedom during the run-up of the nuclear negotiations in an effort to present a more “open” society to the world. With the nuclear deal accomplished, their dismissals and subsequent crackdown on freedoms should not be a surprise.