Iran's Rouhani Says Trump Was an Obstacle to Relations With Neighbors

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Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has said Tehran will seek to build more ties with its neighbors once President Donald Trump is out of office, claiming the administration’s aggressive strategy to contain Iran had failed.

At a cabinet session Wednesday, Rouhani told ministers that the U.S. “maximum pressure” approach on Iran had been dealt a “humiliating” defeat by the resilient regime in Tehran.

Rouhani—a moderate whose term ends this coming summer—said Iran would now look to build closer ties with other regional nations. The president said Trump has been an “obstacle” to such efforts over the past four years, according to the state-run Press TV.

“We established good relations with certain neighbors such as Iraq, Turkey, Afghanistan, and Azerbaijan over the past years, as well as with other friendly countries like Russia, China and others,” Rouhani said, as reported by the Mehr News Agency. “I feel that the atmosphere for closer relations with all of our friends is more prepared.”

Iranian leaders remain defiant in the face of Trump’s offensive, even amid reports that the administration is planning to impose a new raft of sanctions on Iran each week until President-elect Joe Biden‘s inauguration on January 20.

Trump’s sanctions—imposed piecemeal after he withdrew from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) nuclear deal in 2018—have combined with the coronavirus pandemic to leave Iran’s economy faltering. The regime in Tehran has resorted to violence to suppress popular demonstrations against rising costs and stubbornly poor economic performance.

Iranian officials will have wanted Trump to lose out to presidential challenger Joe Biden last week, hoping that a Democratic administration headed by one of the JCPOA’s supporters would bring some much-needed sanctions relief. Indeed, Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe said last month that Iran was meddling in the election to undermine the incumbent president.

Iranian leaders have publicly claimed that who sits in the White House is irrelevant, but behind closed doors they know that is not true.

Biden has already said he wants to rejoin the JCPOA, though has also said he wants to curb Iran’s ballistic missile program and its use of regional proxy forces. Iran is open to resurrecting the JCPOA but has repeatedly refused to negotiate on its missile research or regional activities.

It may be even harder to reach a new deal come summer when Rouhani is set to be replaced by a hardline candidate—perhaps even one from the powerful Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. Such a president would be less willing to come to the table with the Americans.

Iranian foreign minister Javad Zarif said Wednesday that Tehran is waiting to see what Biden actually does, rather than what he says. “Individuals are certainly important, but what matters are the behaviors and actions,” Zarif said, arriving in Pakistan for talks with his counterpart there. “The Islamic Republic is waiting to see these actions from the new U.S. administration.”

Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi, meanwhile, told the Islamic Republic News Agency that Tehran is open to rejoining the JCPOA, but only after negotiations with the incoming administration.

This file photo shows President Donald Trump in the Oval Office at the White House on August 20, 2020 in Washington, D.C.