Rouhani hails ‘golden page’ in Iran’s history as sanctions lifted

Islamic Republic emerges from years of economic isolation as measures come to end

Iran's President Hassan Rouhani hails a nuclear deal with world powers as a "golden page" in the country's history as international sanctions are lifted. Video: Reuters

 

Iranian president Hassan Rouhani on Sunday hailed the nuclear deal with world powers, implemented late the previous evening, as a “golden page” in the country’s history, and looked forward to an economic future less dependent on oil.

The Islamic Republic emerged from years of economic isolation on Saturday when world powers lifted crippling sanctions after confirming that Tehran had curbed its nuclear programme as part of a deal agreed last year.

“The nuclear deal is an opportunity that we should use to develop the country, improve the welfare of the nation, and create stability and security in the region,” Mr Rouhani said as he presented a draft budget for the next fiscal year to parliament.

Tehran also announced the release of five Americans including Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian as part of a prisoner swap with the United States, to reduce decades-old hostility.

As tens of billions of dollars worth of Iranian assets were due to be unfrozen and barriers to international business come down, Rouhani said the deal was a “turning point” for the economy of 80 million people.

He said the deal was an opportunity for Iran’s economy to cut its “umbilical cord” to oil while prices were low. Benchmark Brent crude closed below $29 on Friday, and may fall further as Iran has pledged to raise its supply after sanctions were lifted.

Reduce hostility

Together, the lifting of sanctions and the prisoner deal considerably reduce the hostility between Tehran and Washington that has shaped the Middle East since Iran’s Islamic Revolution of 1979.

Tens of billions of dollars worth of Iranian assets will now be unfrozen and global companies that have been barred from doing business there will be able to exploit a market hungry for everything from automobiles to airplane parts.

The UN nuclear watchdog ruled on Saturday that Iran had abided by an agreement last year with six world powers to curtail its nuclear programme, triggering the end of sanctions.

“Iran has carried out all measures required under the (July deal) to enable Implementation Day (of the deal) to occur,“ the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency said in a statement.

Within minutes, the United States formally lifted banking, steel, shipping and other sanctions on Iran, a major oil producer which has been virtually shut out of international markets for the past five years.

The European Union also began the process of lifting sanctions and Iran‘s transport minister said Tehran plans to buy 114 civil aircraft from European aircraft maker Airbus.

Prestige

The end of sanctions means more money and prestige for Shia Muslim Iran as it becomes deeply embroiled in the sectarian conflicts of the Middle East, notably in the Syrian civil war where its allies are facing Sunni Muslim rebels.

It is also a crowning achievement for Mr Rouhani, a pragmatic cleric elected in 2013 in a landslide on a promise to reduce Iran’s international isolation.

America’s thaw with Iran is viewed with deep suspicion by US Republicans as well as American allies in the Middle East, including Israel and Saudi Arabia. US-Iranian suspicion still remains deeply entrenched.

Israel’s bitter opposition was evident in a statement from prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office on Saturday night.

“Even after the signing of the nuclear agreement, Iran has not abandoned its aspirations to acquire nuclear weapons, and continues to act to destabilise the Middle East and spread terrorism throughout the world while violating its international commitments,” the statement said.

Iran denies its nuclear programme was aimed at obtaining an atomic bomb.

Washington maintains separate, less comprehensive sanctions on Iran over its missile programme. Iran detained 10 US Navy sailors on two boats in the Gulf a week ago, although they were released the next day.

Reuters