Iran’s Rouhani Seeks More Powers to Confront U.S. ‘Economic War’

Ladane Nasseri
Iran’s Rouhani Seeks More Powers to Confront U.S. ‘Economic War’

(Bloomberg) -- Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said his government needs more powers to push back against an “economic war” being waged by the U.S., signaling the country is bracing for a prolonged period of turmoil.

During Iran’s eight-year war with Iraq in the 1980s, a supreme council was set up and “held all powers, and even the parliament and the judiciary did not intervene,” Rouhani told a gathering of clerics on Tuesday. The conflict, initiated by Iraq and referred to by Iran as the “imposed war,” killed a million people on both sides.

Today Iran “is in a state of economic war” and “we need the same type of power,” he said, according to the official Islamic Republic News Agency, referring to U.S. sanctions directed against the country’s vital oil industry and other targets.

Tensions in the Gulf have heightened since the U.S. stopped granting waivers to buyers of Iranian oil early this month. That tightened sanctions slapped on the Islamic Republic after President Donald Trump exited an international nuclear deal a year ago that have triggered an economic slump and sent prices of basic goods soaring.

The U.S. has requested talks with Iran on several occasions, but Rouhani said that while he advocates diplomacy, current conditions call for “resistance,” not negotiations.

Rouhani wants to continue his approach centered on strategic patience in the hope of “buying time” until the next U.S. elections, said Peyman Jafari, who teaches Iranian affairs at the University of Amsterdam. The president is seeking a stronger hand so he can juggle hardliners in the Islamic Republic who favor a more confrontational approach and “diffuse” tensions, he said.

Some of Rouhani’s economic reforms have been challenged by conservatives in parliament, and several of his ministers have faced impeachment calls. While IRNA didn’t elaborate on the additional authority sought by the president, it said concentrating greater power over the economy in his office would accelerate and improve decision making.

The U.S. hastened the deployment of an aircraft carrier to the Gulf, dispatched bomber jets and withdrew some diplomatic personnel from Iraq, citing unspecified threats to American forces or commercial shipping by Iran or its proxies in the Middle East.

Houthi rebels backed by Iran have claimed responsibility for a drone attack this month on two pumping stations along Saudi Arabia’s cross-country oil pipeline and on a southern Saudi airport, and Saudi Arabian and other oil tankers were reported sabotaged as they approached the strategic Strait of Hormuz waterway.

With an economic crisis looming, Iran threatened to gradually withdraw from the 2015 nuclear agreement unless the remaining parties find a way to ease its pain. On Monday, it said it accelerated the rate at which it’s enriching low-grade uranium fourfold, though that alone doesn’t mean it is violating limits agreed under the deal.

That decision may have been a “compromise” between moderates around Rouhani and hardline rivals, said Jafari. While deep divisions exist, they have been “overshadowed by the need to confront the common enemy,” he said. “The escalation by the U.S. has led to a more unified state in Iran.”

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