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Iran’s Press Change Tune on the “Nuke Deal” - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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Last year as world media was gripped with excitement about what President Obama presented as “a once-in-a-lifetime” nuclear deal with Iran, the leadership in Tehran was in feverish mode over who should secure what part of the credit.

Tehran dailies favorable to the Rafsanjani faction, of which President Rouhani is a front-man, came out with sensational headlines molded out of hyperbolics gone mad. The daily Sharq (Orient) offered as banner headline: The World Surrenders to Iran! Another daily, Iran, owned by the government, did even better with: Sanctions Against Iran Are Shattered!

Having labeled the deal as “the greatest diplomatic victory in the history of Islam”, President Hassan Rouhani more than hinted that he should get the credit. His cousins in Sorkeh, his native village in eastern Iran, lost no time to order his bronze bust to be made and installed in the square opposite the family home.

Not to be deprived of his share of glory, Foreign Minister Muhammad-Javad Zarif also had his own bust, this time covered with gilt coating, to be made and installed in a park in Tehran.

For weeks the state-controlled media was full of speculations about whether Rouhani or Zarif, or perhaps even both, would get the Nobel Peace Prize. Adopting a clear stance on the reported deal was not as easy for “Supreme Guide” Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Having constantly warned that the Americans were not to be trusted and that the only way to “protect Islam and the Revolution” was to keep the “Great Satan” at an arm’s length, he couldn’t just appear on TV to cast himself as one of the fathers of the reported “victory.” At the same time, he couldn’t deprive himself of a share of the credit in case the “deal” really worked.

Khamenei decided to have his bread buttered on both sides. He hinted that he might let the deal “go through” provided “certain conditions” were met by the US and its partners in the so-called P5+1 Group. Each time, however, he made sure to set conditions that had already been met, at least in appearance.

At the same time, Khamenei insisted that the “deal” should signal “a new phase in the intensification of the struggle against the Great Satan”, and warned that the US was still wielding a dagger behind its back to stab “Islam and the Revolution.” Because the “deal” appeared a real opportunity to help Iran revive its economy, it was initially popular. This is why Rouhani and his team didn’t mind, and perhaps even encouraged, the perception that Khamenei was not quite keen on it.

A year later, things have changed. The “deal” has had little or no beneficial effect on Iran’s corruption-ridden and lethargic economy. Unemployment is at historically high levels with at least two years of negative economic growth under Rouhani. All this amid fears that the “deal” was a mirage.

Not a single sanction against Iran has been lifted, although some have been suspended by Presidential Decrees signed by Obama. The brand new Airbus passenger aircrafts that Iran was supposed to receive are yet to arrive and there is no sign of foreign investors interested in taking risks with Iran.

To make matters worse, Iran’s hope of seeing the Obama friendly policy extended under a President Hillary Clinton have been shattered by Donald Trump’s surprise victory on a platform that includes the ditching of the “deal”.

The papers that had helped Rouhani market his “historic triumph” are now trying to walk back the cat. They fear that the failure of the “deal” could dominate the next presidential election in the spring of 2017 and shatter Rouhani’s chances for a second term.

In an interview, the daily Sharq’s Editor-in-Chief Mehdi Rahmanian, admits that his paper “exaggerated the merits” of the “deal.” “We did that based on assertions by President Rouhani and his team,” Rahmanian says. “I admit we gave it an impressive make-up.”

The daily Etemad (Confidence) which also pepped up the “deal” to support Rouhani now admits that its reports about a brand new Airbus fleet soon to appear at Tehran Airport had been “premature.”

As for daily Iran, still a staunch Rouhani supporter, it is looking for a scapegoat to blame for the perceived failure of the “deal”. “It is too early to write off the deal, although Trumps election poses a serious threat,” it says. In other words if the “deal” collapses it would be Trump’s fault.

The weekly Eqtesad (Economy) has also come out with its mea-culpa concerning rosy predictions about the miraculous effect that the “deal” was supposed to have on Iran’s economic prospects.

In recent days both Rouhani and his team have tried to implicate Khamenei in any setback the “deal” might suffer. “We did nothing without first consulting the Supreme Guide,” Rouhani says.

At the same time, the daily Kashan, believed to echo Khamenei’s views, on Tuesday rejected that claim with a banner headline: “The Catastrophe of the Deal Is Due to Ignoring The leader’s Warnings!” In other words, Khamenei won’t allow Rouhani to deprive him of the benefit of “I-told-you-so” admonitions.

At a press conference Tuesday, Ali Motahhari, an Islamic Majlis member and initially an ardent supporter of the “deal” claimed that the matter had not been properly discussed in the ersatz parliament. “It was offered as a single bloc,” he said. “To approve that, 20 minutes would have been enough.”

Another initial backer of the “deal” is General Mohsen Rezai, a former chief of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard and a close associate of Rafsanjani. In an editorial published in the news-site Tabnak, which he owns, the retired general claims that the “deal” is “melting away like a snowman in summer.”

When the “deal” looked like a great success, it had many who claimed to be its fathers. Now that it is seen as a failure it is an orphan.

Amir Taheri

Amir Taheri

Amir Taheri was the executive editor-in-chief of the daily Kayhan in Iran from 1972 to 1979. He has worked at or written for innumerable publications, published eleven books, and has been a columnist for Asharq Al-Awsat since 1987. Mr. Taheri has won several prizes for his journalism, and in 2012 was named International Journalist of the Year by the British Society of Editors and the Foreign Press Association in the annual British Media Awards.

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