As tensions in Tehran intensify before the upcoming presidential election on May 19, President Hassan Rouhani has been criticized by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei for comments he made on Sunday, saying his policy of detente with the West had reduced the threat of Iran becoming involved in a war.
Under Rouhani the 2015 Nuclear Deal between Iran and the West, which lifted international sanctions, in return for Tehran agreeing to curb its nuclear programme. The deal, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), has been disparaged both by Tehran, and by U.S. President Trump.
The rivalry between Rouhani, and Khamenei's allies, who opposed the nuclear deal, has intensified as the election approaches.
State media quoted Khamenei as saying on Sunday, "Some say since we took office the shadow of war has been faded away. This is not correct.” He added, ”It's been people's presence in the political scene that has removed the shadow of war from the country.”
Hardliners have criticised Rouhani’s economic record, saying resumption of relations with the West and nuclear concessions have failed to yield the expected economic benefits.
However, Rouhani said on Sunday, “The nuclear deal was a national achievement. We should make use of its advantages. But some have started a fight over it.” Upon the opening of a refinery in Bandar Abbas, Rouhani said the project is a result of the nuclear deal and "interaction with the world.”
Challenging Rouhani are Ebrahim Raisi, a religious leader with decades of experience in the hardline judiciary, and former Revolutionary Guards commander and conservative Tehran Mayor, Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf.
Diplomats said on Sunday that the European Union is attempting to show Iranians that the EU is committed to the nuclear deal, and Iranians stand to benefit. This weekend, Europe’s energy commissioner is leading more than 50 European firms in a business forum in Tehran. EU nations are most affected by the oil embargo, and of the six major powers (the United States, Britain, France, Germany, China and Russia) who engineered the Nuclear Deal, they gain the most from it.
Commissioner Miguel Arias-Canete, in a meeting with Iran's atomic chief Ali Akbar Salehi, stated that the EU is "fully committed" to the 2015 deal and expects the same from all other parties. However, the bloc's leverage remains limited.
Aircraft manufacturers like Airbus and Boeing, and automotive companies such as Peugeot-Citroen and Renault, are doing business with Iran, but many others are reluctant, as Trump may make an already complex set of rules for engaging with Iran even more difficult.
An inter-agency review regarding the lifting of sanctions against Iran was announced by the Trump administration on April 18. Although the administration acknowledged that Tehran was complying with the deal, there are still questions of whether it is in the national security interests of the U.S.