Iran struggling under reimposed sanctions, country’s leaders say

In Nowruz holiday messages, Khamenei calls economic woes Tehran’s ‘most urgent, serious problem’; Rouhani says others will soon regret putting financial restraints on Iran

In this photo from March 16, 2019, an Iranian worker carries Iranian flags prior to an inauguration ceremony of a natural gas refinery at the South Pars gas field on the northern coast of the Persian Gulf, in Asaluyeh, Iran. (AP/Vahid Salemi)
In this photo from March 16, 2019, an Iranian worker carries Iranian flags prior to an inauguration ceremony of a natural gas refinery at the South Pars gas field on the northern coast of the Persian Gulf, in Asaluyeh, Iran. (AP/Vahid Salemi)

TEHRAN, Iran — Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei called the economic difficulties of Iranians the main and most urgent problem of the country Thursday, and the country’s president and top diplomat also used holiday messages to speak out against sanctions re-imposed by the US last year.

Iran has faced increased economic hardship in the last 12 months which was aggravated after US President Donald Trump withdrew from the 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and world powers last May.

The renewal of American sanctions, which had been eased in exchange for curbs on Tehran’s nuclear program, sent shockwaves through Iran’s economy.

“Specially in recent months the difficulties for people’s livelihoods has increased,” Khamenei said in a prerecorded message aired on state TV Thursday to mark the beginning of the new Iranian year, known as Nowruz.

Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei at a gathering of the Basij, an all-volunteer force under the Revolutionary Guard, in Tehran, October 4, 2018. (Office of the Iranian Supreme Leader via AP)

“The economy is the country’s urgent problem, it’s the country’s (most) serious and primary problem,” he added, mentioning the devaluation of the national currency, the drop in purchasing power and the fall in production as symptoms of the issue.

Khamenei said increasing production was the key to saving the economy and declared “national production” the motto of the new year.

The IMF reported that the Iranian economy slumped into recession in 2018 and has forecast a 3.6 percent decline in GDP for 2019.

Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani also focused on the US sanctions in his new year message broadcast on state TV immediately after Khamenei’s.

“Some might ask till when will these sanctions and problems go on… these problems began with the oath-breakers and those who have recently reached power in Washington, but the (key to the) end is in our hands,” he said sitting in front of a row of Iranian flags.

“The more we are united, and the more the enemy realizes that with these sanctions our nation becomes more cohesive, the sooner they will despair and regret (sanctioning Iran),” Rouhani said calling on all branches of government, as well as the armed forces and Iranians from all walks of life, to put aside differences and share the burden of economic “problems and disorder.”

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani pays tribute in front of the tomb of Imam Ali shrine in the Iraqi holy city of Najaf on March 13, 2019. (Haidar HAMDANI / AFP)

Rouhani had heavily counted on the 2015 nuclear deal to help save the floundering economy.

But ever since the US withdrawal he has been under increasing criticism from his political opponents both for mismanagement of the economy as well as his perceived gullibility in trusting the US in the nuclear deal.

Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif, whose attempt to resign his position earlier this year shone a rare light on internal strife within the government, called the sanctions regime “unprecedented, inhumane and illegal,” in an English language message posted to YouTube.

But he vowed the country would overcome the sanctions “before submitting to outside diktats,” and urged new ties with other countries opposed to Washington.

“We rely solely on our own people to overcome any challenges, but we also welcome constructive engagement, including with the expanding array of nations who are equally sick and tired of the bullying of the US,” he said.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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