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'Great Satan' USA & 'evil' Britain not to be trusted - Iran's leader

Iran’s supreme leader says Iranians should not trust the US and other “small and big enemies” of the country during commemorations of his predecessor, who led the country through the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

“We have many small and big enemies, but foremost among them are America and this very evil Britain,” Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei said in a televised speech dedicated to the 27th anniversary of the death of Rouhollah Khomeini, who was the first person to hold the highest office in post-revolutionary Iran.

The driving force behind the 1979 revolution was public outrage with Iran’s Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, who had strong support from the US and the UK while using secret police and martial law to subjugate his people. Under his reign a CIA coup overthrew Iran’s elected government in 1953 for nationalizing UK-owned oil companies.

According to Khamenei, "America has continued its enmity towards Iran since the revolution.”

“It is a huge mistake to trust evil Britain and the Great Satan,” he added, referring to the US by a nickname often used by Iranian officials in anti-American speeches.

“Any individual or current which is working for Islam, if they trust America, they will be slapped in the face,” he said.

The Iranian leader said Iran would not cooperate with the US in regional affairs, because “their aims in the region are 180 degrees opposed to Iran's."

Iran and the US have a common enemy in the region, the terrorist group Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL). The US is leading an international coalition, which uses airstrikes and commando raids in an effort to eradicate IS powerbase in Iraq and Syria. Tehran provides commanders for militias fighting against IS in Iraq and Syria and is a major ally of the Syrian government. The US on the other hand said it wants the Syrian government ousted and had been supporting armed groups in Syria, which Washington deems moderate.

A period of eased tension between the US and Iran followed the signing last year of a nuclear deal, under which Iran scaled down its nuclear program in exchange for lifting of economic sanctions and technical expertise from foreign nuclear powers.

Khamenei, who voiced skepticism over the deal, despite not interfering with its negotiation, has since repeatedly accused the US of not holding its end of the bargain.

EU Eyes Return as Iran’s First Trade Partner
by Maysam Bizær, Contributor for Al-Monitor

With the lifting of nuclear-related sanctions, Iran and the European Union can now restore their commercial ties — but not without bumps in the road.

TEHRAN, Iran — The European Union's foreign policy chief has stated that the 28-member bloc once again wants to become Iran's biggest trading partner. "We are the ones that used to be Iran's first partner on the economic fields, on trade, investment, and we want to be back to that," Federica Mogherini told Tasnim News Agency during her one-day trip to Tehran on April 16.

Indeed, an increasing number of European political and trade delegations have visited Iran following the Jan. 16 removal of nuclear-related sanctions. With Iran determined to rebuild its economy, which has been hampered by sanctions over the past decade, and the EU still reeling from its debt crisis, which began in 2009, the expansion of economic ties is perceived to be beneficial for both sides.

A former senior Iranian diplomat who spoke to Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity said the development of ties has turned into a "necessity for [both] Tehran and the EU."

He said, "Economic ties with Europe is advantageous for Iran in terms of development, and it carries [fewer] issues than relations with the United States. Europe's approach to Iran has been, is and will be strategic and long term as far as energy security is concerned, because the continent has no better choice to substitute Iran's oil and gas resources."

For Iran, the former Iranian diplomat underscored that "access to European markets and the use of its advanced technology have historic roots and is an economical option."

Relations between Iran and the European Union date back to 1963. After the 1979 Islamic Revolution, the relationship was maintained — despite many ups and downs.

In the early 1990s, relations began improving. Following the 1997 election of Reformist President Mohammad Khatami (1997-2005), ties greatly expanded in many areas, including trade, culture and academic exchanges. Indeed, EU exports to Iran increased from 3.9 billion euros ($4.3 billion) in 1996 to 11.3 billion euros ($12.6 billion) in 2006, while imports expanded from 5.8 billion euros ($6.4 billion) in 1996 to 14.1 billion euros ($15.7 billion) in 2006. As such, the EU during this period became Iran's largest trade partner. In 2006, it was the destination of 38% of Iranian exports and accounted for 31% of Iranian imports.

Following the election of Principlist President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in 2005, and the heightening of political tensions with the West over Iran's nuclear program, trade relations between Iran and the European bloc assumed a downward trajectory.

As the EU took a similar position to the United States in imposing unilateral sanctions on Iranian banks, insurance companies and even cutting access to SWIFT, the impact on trade was clear. EU exports to Iran plummeted to 7.3 billion euros in 2012, down from highs of 11.3 billion euros in 2006.

In response, Iran began shifting the focus of its trade eastward, and thus expanded economic ties with countries such as China and India.

In 2013, moderate Hassan Rouhani, who had promised to end the country's isolation through dialogue, was elected president. After the conclusion of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) in July 2015, many Europeans from various industries including aviation, telecommunication, automobile, agriculture and energy have visited Iran, and many contracts worth billions of euros have been signed.

Indeed, during her April 16 visit to Tehran, Mogherini specifically stated that the EU needs its banks to be present in Iran. As such, the bloc is making efforts to reassure European banks about engaging with the country. In this regard, Iran and the EU have also agreed to broaden bilateral cooperation in various fields, including trade and investment, agriculture, transport and energy.

To be clear, interest in the expansion of ties between Iran and the EU is not only limited to the Europeans. Iranian authorities have also time and again spoken of their country's willingness to expand relations with the bloc. "Expansion of ties with EU states is among Tehran's policies. The post-JCPOA era must be used for development and job creation in the country," Rouhani said before departing for Italy and France in January.

As Iran eyes foreign investment to revive its economy, officials estimate that the country can absorb over $50 billion in foreign investment a year.

Attracting foreign direct investment from Europe would help the Rouhani administration to achieve its stated objectives of boosting Iran's private sector, liberalizing the economy and further diversifying it away from dependency on oil. Such a partnership would also serve the country's long-term interests, because it will prevent Tehran from being a mere consumer and thus decrease its dependency on the bloc.

In an interview with Al-Monitor, Charles Robertson, global chief economist at Renaissance Capital, said he expects that among European countries, France, Germany and Italy will be leading investors in Iran in the years to come.

"Iran historically had very close links to Europe — from French retailers to UK defense equipment. Since 2014, there has been a constant stream of European companies visiting Iran hoping to trade with and/or invest in the country," Robertson told Al-Monitor.

He said, "In the 1970s, Iran was one of Carrefour's top three global markets. Already we have seen European banks opening up to Iranian banks. We expect European industrial firms to follow suit."

Yet while senior Iranian and EU officials have expressed a mutual desire to expand ties, several obstacles remain. Remaining US banking sanctions are hampering trade between Europe and Iran, non-Western countries are intensifying their efforts to expand their market share in Iran, and there are also the reported efforts by Saudi Arabia to deprive Iran from the economic benefits of the JCPOA.

A European diplomat who spoke to Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity further reiterated that Iran and the EU can now restore their commercial ties — but not without bumps in the road.

"Re-engagement with Iran will certainly create opportunities on both sides in terms of trade and investment, but change will come only progressively and results cannot be expected overnight. Ambitious Iranian projects will require the support of international investors, but European [and international] investment firms still need time to adjust their plans to the new situation and assess the new legal provisions."

As such, despite the nuclear agreement, it appears that the EU is months if not years away from becoming Iran's largest trade partner once again.

Ayatollah Jannati: Iran's Future Supreme Leader?

On Tuesday, Ayahtollah Ahmad Jannati was elected chairman of the Assembly of Experts, a powerful deliberative body charged with electing and removing Iran's Supreme Leader. Commenting on the election, Iranian political commentator Emad Abshenass spoke to Sputnik about the prospects for Jannati becoming the next Supreme Leader.

Jannati, 90, was elected chairman of the Assembly of Experts with 51 votes, with Western media speculation rife that the vote is an indication that the conservative cleric may be Ali Khamenei's successor.

At the same time, the analyst noted that "it must be said for correctness' sake that so long as the Supreme Leader is alive, energetic and in good health, the question of a political successor is not even discussed. Any person who has strong religious and scientific knowledge, and who is well-versed in social issues and policies could become a potential candidate for the highest office in the Iranian government hierarchy. Ayatollah Jannati is one of them, as are other representatives of the Assembly of Experts."

Commenting on the nomination process for the post of supreme leader, Abshenass explained that a committee within the Assembly of Experts is entrusted with the duty of nominating candidates for the post of supreme leader. "This list of candidates is not disclosed and remains confidential." The selection process is aimed at avoiding political crises after a supreme leader passes away or steps down.

Commenting on the other qualities necessary for candidates for the post of Supreme Leader, Abshenass noted that leadership skills, charism, and support and popularity among the Iranian people are also important. "Finding a person who matches all of these criteria is difficult, and impossible to do quickly. It was with this purpose that the Assembly of Experts was created – to search for worthy candidates who fit the relevant criteria ahead of time, from among society."

"As far as age limits are concerned, no limitations exist. However, the candidate must be in good health," the expert said.

Iran is an Islamic Republic, its politics taking place within the framework of a theocracy and guided by an Islamic ideology. At the same time, its government is also a republic, in the sense that the state is considered to belong to the people, not a single ruler. In addition to the Assembly of Experts, the country has an elected president, parliament and local councils. According to the constitution, all candidates for these posts must be vetted by the Guardian Council, a 12-member body appointed by the Supreme Leader.
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