TEHRAN: Iranian leaders marked the Persian New Year, or Nowruz, Thursday with a rallying cry to revive the troubled economy, as U.S. President Barack Obama called on the “entire” government to seize on nuclear talks to overcome sanctions.
In a prerecorded message broadcast on state television, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Ali Khamenei said the time had come with the new year – 1393 in the Persian calendar – for the authorities to make a “big push.”
“The essential issue of the economy is important for the country and the people,” said Khamenei, the country’s ultimate authority who has the final say on all key affairs.
Khamenei also drew attention to cultural issues, which he said would determine “the path and direction of our great country and nation.”
Reeling from double-digit inflation, unemployment and stagnation, Iran’s economy has struggled to cope with international sanctions imposed by the U.S. and EU over the Islamic Republic’s nuclear ambitions.
In a separate message, President Hassan Rouhani said that measures had been taken to tackle inflation and restore calm to currency markets since he took office after a surprise presidential election victory in August last year.
“The next year will be the year of economic growth ... as we will take serious steps to slow down inflation,” Rouhani vowed.
On the decadelong standoff with the West over Iran’s nuclear activities, he expressed hope to successfully build on an interim deal struck in November and reach a lasting accord with major world powers.
“We brought to a halt the sanctions chariot,” he said of the interim deal, under which Iran agreed to curb part of its nuclear activities in exchange for modest sanctions relief.
“This will continue, as we hope to strike a final deal,” a confident Rouhani added.
The six powers – Britain, China, France, Russia, Germany and the United States – want Iran to reduce permanently, or at least for a long time, the scope of its nuclear activities, in order to make it extremely difficult for the country ever to develop nuclear weapons.
Iran has always denied having any such ambition.
Obama called on the “entire” government in Tehran to seize the chance offered by the talks to end Iran’s economic isolation and attempted to build support among Iranians in favor of the negotiations in an annual video message marking Nowruz.
Obama noted that Iranians elected the comparatively moderate Rouhani last year to strengthen the economy, improve their lives and engage constructively with the rest of the world.
“I hope that the entire Iranian government hears that message too,” he said.
Blaming Iran’s economic pain on “the choices of Iranian leaders,” he told the Iranian people “you deserve better,” as he stressed the importance of reaching a final nuclear deal.
But a day after the latest round of talks between the powers and Tehran concluded, Obama warned he was under “no illusions” and knew building on an interim deal, in which Iran froze aspects of its nuclear program in return for limited relief from sanctions, would be difficult.“There is a chance to reach an agreement if Iran takes meaningful and verifiable steps to assure the world that its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes only,” Obama said.
The U.S. leader said a permanent nuclear deal would mean more trade with the rest of the world for Tehran, greater economic growth, jobs for young Iranians and the chance for students to travel. “If Iran seizes this moment, this Nowruz could mark not just the beginning of a new year, but a new chapter in the history of Iran and its role in the world,” he said.
Obama has battled to convince critics in the U.S. Congress about the wisdom of his diplomatic approach, and fought off a bid by lawmakers to impose new sanctions, which he said could hinder diplomacy.