Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has declared the upcoming Iranian New Year “Pickup in Production.” This means at the very least that future speeches and slogans will have a heightened focus on the state of the economy, which is currently struggling in part due to US sanctions that were reimposed after the Donald Trump administration’s withdrawal from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, the nuclear deal signed between Iran and six world powers in 2015.
“We put behind us an adventurous year,” Khamenei said in a video message aired on Iranian state television March 21, adding that "the enemy had plans for Iran, [but] the strength and wisdom of the people and the efforts of the youth neutralized the plans of the enemy.” Khamenei said, “Against severe sanctions that in their own words were unprecedented, the Iranian nation both in the political field and the economic field showed a strong and powerful reaction.”
Khamenei continued, “The fundamental problem of the country is economic problems — especially in recent months, the livelihood problems of the people have increased.” He added, “Some of this is related to inadequate management of economic issues.” Two of the economic problems, according to Khamenei, are the issues of the decrease in the value of the national currency and the drop of purchasing power, and the slowing down of production and sometimes closing down of factories. According to economic experts who have been advising Khamenei, the solution is the “development of national production.”
Regarding last year’s slogan of “Supporting Iranian products,” Khamenei said, “I cannot say that this slogan was completely carried out, but it could be said that this slogan was paid attention to on a wide scale and on a number of issues; this slogan was welcomed by people and acted upon, and this certainly will have an influence.” He added that “production” can solve many of the economic problems in Iran, including employment and currency issues, and can also protect the country in the face of foreign enemies.
Khamenei’s focus on domestic production should not be a surprise. In a later speech in the northeastern city of Mashhad, Khamenei accused foreign countries of waging “economic war” against Iran and emphasized a need for “economic deterrence.” In a dig at President Hassan Rouhani and Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif’s outreach to Western countries, particularly on the nuclear deal, Khamenei also said it’s good that officials have come to the conclusion that they can’t trust the West. Khamenei also lamented Europe’s efforts to carry out commitments under the nuclear deal, saying that the trade vehicle INSTEX is “more of a joke, albeit a bitter joke.”
President Rouhani also addressed economic issues in his New Year address, which was broadcast immediately after that of Khamenei. “From the viewpoint of livelihood, people encountered many difficulties,” Rouhani said. In order to address these issues, Rouhani stressed the need for unity among everyone in the country, including the different branches of the government, the armed forces, the universities, farmers and producers. “Making a primary issue secondary and making the secondary issue primary is one of the biggest strategic mistakes in life,” Rouhani said. He added, “The basis of our turmoil and problems … have come from those outside of our borders.”
Rouhani conceded to “structural problems,” some of which are related “to previous years and even before the [1979 Islamic] revolution.” He said there are even “weaknesses in management” that add to economic problems. However, he stressed that “we must not forget the primary issue,” which, according to him, is “the enemy.” He warned that in the upcoming year Iran must recognize that “the enemy is in front of us, [and] if we attack to our left and right, we are inflicting damages on our own forces.”
Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif’s New Year message also struck a similar tone. “We are under no illusion that the path ahead is easy,” Zarif said in the video message. “But I will remind those who wish us harm that Iranians have celebrated more than 3,000 New Days, and we will celebrate countless more before submitting to outside diktats.”
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