New York Trip
Hassan Rouhani has now been in office for sixty days. In the last ten days, accounts of the president’s trip to New York for the U.N. General Assembly and other foreign policy initiatives have dominated the news.
In the area of foreign policy, the Rouhani Meter has identified only four clear-cut and unequivocal election promises. Of these four, three are related to both the nuclear issue and international sanctions. As a reduction in sanctions is contingent on a resolution to the nuclear stalemate, Rouhani and his team used this trip to New York to communicate their intentions to work towards that end.
Rouhani’s address at the UN General Assembly, many meetings with high ranking foreign officials (including French President Francois Hollande), American business leaders, and scholars, and interviews with foreign-language media outlets were all designed to convey Iran’s commitment to striking a nuclear deal in the short-term. Trip highlights include Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif’s meeting with the P5+1, his side-meeting with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, and Rouhani’s historic phone conversation with President Obama.
While these activities function to create the foundation on which nuclear negotiations can be built, they will not alone result in the minimization of sanctions.
Travel to Saudi Arabia
One of the president’s foreign policy promises is “to improve bilateral relations with the Persian Gulf countries, especially Saudi Arabia.” While rumors circulated in late September that Rouhani might attend the Hajj, Deputy Foreign Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian later confirmed that the president does not intend to travel Saudi Arabia for the annual pilgrimage.
“But as Iran and Saudi Arabia are willing to expand ties and due to the importance of this issue, the Iranian and Saudi officials will meet at their earliest possible opportunity,” Abdollahian added.
The source of these rumors seems to have been a Saudi diplomatic source who told United Press International that on Rouhani had accepted King Abdullah’s invitation to participate in the Hajj, which begins on October 13, in early September.
The anonymous source also said that the two leaders planned to meet in front of the Kaaba in Mecca.
The two heads of state are said to have exchanged letters, with the Saudi King congratulating Rouhani on his victory and the latter thanking him. The president, his foreign minister, and deputy foreign minister have also congratulated King Abdullah on the occasion of Saudi National Day.
Providing Accurate Facts and Figures
In contrast to the administration of former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, which was often criticized for its lack of transparency on economic issues, Rouhani has promised to provide the public with accurate economic “facts and figures.”
Rouhani seems to be making good on his promise. The Central Bank of Iran has just reported that Iran’s economy contracted by 5.4 percent in 2012. Inflation was at about 35 percent in this same period.
Ahmadinejad’s administration stopped releasing information on the economy when Iran plunged into a recession in 2011. This is the first time in two years that the Central Bank has published numbers on the rate of economic growth.
The Rouhani Meter has deemed this promise “in progress.”
Reduction in Point-to-Point Inflation
While inflation in Iran continues to rise, the rate at which it increases has slowed. According to the latest report by the Statistics Centre of Iran, inflation reached 36% for the 12 months period ending in September. However, between August and September 2013, the price of goods and services increased at a rate lower than it did between August and September 2012. The rate of inflation published by the Statistics Center is generally smaller than that published by Central Bank of Iran. Point-to-point inflation is calculated by comparing the rate for one month with that of the same month the year before.
In recent weeks, the value of Iranian currency has increased against the U.S. dollar, a result, experts believe, of the optimism generated by President’s Rouhani’s foreign policy initiatives. It is hoped that the president’s ability to diffuse international tensions and institute sound economic policies will relieve the economic pressure caused by inflation and improve the standard of living in Iran.
If this trend continues, the Rouhani Meter may soon deem Rouhani’s promise to reduce inflation “in progress.”
Strengthen the Value of Iranian Currency
The progressive decline in the value of the Iranian rial in recent years and the increase in the cost of the U.S. dollar has preoccupied many Iranians. Rouhani has promised to boost the value of the rial. Indeed, its value rose to just under 30,000 rials during his first sixty days in office. It seems, however, that the Central Bank of Iran is trying to stabilize the rial at this value and maintain the rate of exchange.
Khamenei Pardons 80 Political Prisoners
Of the many public demands made of Rouhani following his election was the release of political prisoners. The power to pardon prisoners, however, rests not with the executive branch but with the judiciary and the office of the Supreme Leader.
During his campaign, Rouhani made no promise to free political prisoners, many of whom were arrested in the uprisings that followed the contested 2009 presidential elections. He did, however, acknowledge that something should be done to help with the release of these prisoners.
In late September, Iran released 11 political prisoners, including lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh and journalist Mahsa Amrabadi. On September 23, Gholam-Hossein Mohseni Ezhei, spokesman for the judiciary, announced that 80 “security prisoners” (prisoners of conscience), some of whom were involved in the 2009 election uprisings, had been pardoned. While some of those pardoned will be released from prison, others will only have their sentences commuted or fines canceled.
Appointing Deputies from Minority Groups
During his campaign, Rouhani once said, “We need to address minority issues and hear their problems. If there is a person from a minority community by the president’s side, he or she can familiarize us with their problems. [However] if there is a deputy from a minority community inside the government who attends to [minority] issues, but the president does not believe in equal rights for all people, minority issues will not be solved.”
Despite Rouhani’s statement, the president appointed Ali Younes as special assistant to the president on matters of ethnic and religious minorities. Younes is a Shia cleric and not a member of a religious or ethnic minority community.