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Persian Letters

Former Iranian Minister Says New President To Inherit Economic Challenges

A shopkeeper counts bank notes at a bazaar in Tehran.
A shopkeeper counts bank notes at a bazaar in Tehran.
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A former Iranian agriculture minister and current member of the advising committee helping Hassan Rohani select his cabinet has warned that the president-elect will inherit a blighted economy.

When asked in an interview published in the June 9 issue of the daily "Ghanoon" about the health of the country's agriculture sector, Issa Kalantari replies, "May God help Rohani."

"Unfortunately, Rohani will inherit the country with empty warehouses, an empty treasury, empty ports, and an empty central bank," says Kalantari, who served as agriculture minister under President Mohammad Khatami from 1989-98 and received two college degrees in the United States.

Some of the statistics about increases in agricultural production cited by outgoing President Mahmud Ahmadinejad are inaccurate, he suggests.

"If these figures were true, we would be among the world's happiest people," Kalantari says of Ahmadinejad's claim that the government produced 118 million tons of agricultural goods in the last calendar year.

"Agricultural production is a term used for products that are consumed by humans or delivered to factories," he continues. "Based on this criterion, the agricultural production in the country is not more than 68 million tons. [Animal] forage is not considered an agricultural product, but it is included in the statistics."
Hassan Rohani: Enter, stage right
Hassan Rohani: Enter, stage right

Kalantari says other government statistics are equally misleading.

He predicts that Rohani, who has promised moderation at home and abroad, will need at least two years to bring the country back to the economic strength it was at in 2005, the year Ahmadinejad came to power.

Ahmadinejad has been accused of massive mismanagement of the Iranian economy, which is in shambles. International sanctions over the country's controversial nuclear program have also contributed to the country's woes.

But Kalantari warns that the biggest future problem facing Iran is neither its ailing economy nor foreign pressure.

"The problem that threatens us -- and is more dangerous than Israel, and the U.S., and political disputes...is the issue of the [survival] of the nation. The plateau of Iran is becoming uninhabitable," he says.

Kalantari says water tables have significantly decreased, natural lakes have dried up and, as a result, a water crisis is threatening the country.

The situation is so bad, he says, that he worries about the fate of future generations, saying, "If the situation is not corrected, in 30 years Iran, will be a ghost nation."

In the wide-ranging interview, Kalantari also talks about how Rohani's cabinet is being chosen.

Kalantari says no final decisions have been made but pointed to former President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani's cabinet as a good indicator of what the group might look like.

"All factions and groups were present in Rafsanjani's cabinet and the cabinet did not belong to a specific thinking. Rohani has the same mentality," he says.

He also says that because of Rohani's experience in international affairs, choosing a foreign minister would be the easiest task for him.

Reports say Rohani's inauguration will take place on August 3.

-- Golnaz Esfandiari
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by: Caroline Mawer from: London
July 13, 2013 10:11
The point about water drying up is really important. All along the Tehran-Mashhad road (for example) the water now comes from pumps - bringing ancient water up from deep underground. That water level is dropping fast. Lots of the water pumped up is wasted. Isnt it a terrible paradox that Iran has the most ancient, the most sustainable of water technologies (qanats) and is now using the oil that it has to irretrievably dry out the entire country.

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Persian Letters is a blog that offers a window into Iranian politics and society. Written primarily by Golnaz Esfandiari, Persian Letters brings you under-reported stories, insight and analysis, as well as guest Iranian bloggers -- from clerics, anarchists, feminists, Basij members, to bus drivers.

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