As Iranian President Hassan Rohani enters his second term in office, he faces a number of challenges both at home and from abroad.
U.S. Pressure And The Nuclear Deal
Hassan Rohani began his second term on August 5 amid an intensification of pressure from Washington, which has accused Tehran of noncompliance with international obligations following recent missile tests and has characterized the 2015 nuclear accord as a bad deal.
The administration of U.S. President Donald Trump has twice (in April and July) certified Iran's compliance with the deal, under which Iran limited its nuclear activities in exchange for sanctions relief. But he has reportedly asked White House staffers to begin making a case to deny certification of the deal, worked out with five other world powers under the administration of President Barack Obama, when the next review comes up in October.
Trump said in an interview with The Wall Street Journal in July, when he last certified Iranian compliance following a 90-day review period, that if it were up to him he would have declared Iran noncompliant 180 days ago.
"I think they’ll be noncompliant. I think they’re taking advantage of this country. They’ve taken advantage of a president, named Barack Obama, who didn’t know what the hell he was doing. And I do not expect that they will be compliant.”
The United States had earlier imposed new, unilateral economic sanctions on Iran over its ballistic-missile program, in both May and July. On July 18, Trump expressed concern over Iran's "malign activities across the Middle East" and said that while Iran was complying with the deal, it was in default of "the spirit" of the accord.
Rohani, who won election in 2013 on the promise of ending Iran's international isolation, dedicated the first years of his presidency to negotiating the deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). In his second term, he will have to work to defend it in the face of criticism from not only abroad but at home, as well.
Sanctions Piling Up
Rohani enters his second term just as more new U.S. sanctions, signed into law by Trump on August 2, target Iran for human rights violations and support for terrorism. The sanctions also single out companies and individuals that aid Iran's ballistic-missile program.
Iran was barred under a 2010 UN Security Council resolution (1929) from conducting ballistic-missile tests. But that resolution was terminated with the signing of the JCPOA worked out with the United States and other world powers. The postdeal resolution (2231) says that "Iran is called upon not to undertake any activity related to ballistic missiles designed to be capable of delivering nuclear weapons."
Tehran has said that its most recent missile tests, involving the Simorgh rocket, are intended to launch satellites.
Pressure From Hard-Liners
Hard-line pressure on Rohani could increase in the next four years. Hard-liners who control key institutions have targeted Rohani’s outreach to the West and also his efforts at home to expand civil liberties and lessen censorship. They have also targeted his brother Hossein Fereidoun, who was briefly detained last month and released on bail over unspecified allegations of financial impropriety.
Rohani, who has in past weeks launched verbal attacks on his hard-line rivals, including on the judiciary and the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), called for unity during his August 3 endorsement ceremony.
Reformist politician Mostafa Tajzadeh said earlier this week that Rohani has faced unprecedented pressure.
"Even [former reformist President Mohammad Khatami] didn’t face the kind of problems Rohani has faced in the past two months since his [reelection],” Tajzadeh said.
"The atmosphere has been so intense against Rohani that some were asking me whether there would be an endorsement and inauguration ceremony," he added.
And the attacks are likely to continue.
"To weaken Rohani, they will try all possible ways, from provoking hawks in Washington to imposing more political limitations at home...and isolating Iran economically," an unidentified senior official told Reuters in June.
Rohani is also under pressure to translate the nuclear deal into a better economy for Iranians who are frustrated with the slow results of the accord. During the election campaign, Rohani’s rivals accused him of having failed to revive the economy, claiming that the gap between rich and poor has widened.
Hard-line conservatives, who have consistently attacked Rohani for the deal, have said existing U.S. sanctions scare potential foreign investors away and cite them as evidence that Washington, too, is not in compliance with the spirit of the JCPOA.
The release of Iran's political prisoners, particularly opposition figures Mir Hossein Musavi, his wife, Zahra Rahnavard, and fellow reformist cleric Mehdi Karrubi has been among the main demands of Rohani’s supporters.
Rohani has failed to push for their release despite promises made in his 2013 and 2017 election campaigns.
The head of the powerful judiciary, Ayatollah Sadegh Larijani, recently criticized the Iranian president for promising to release the opposition figures.
"Who are you to end the house arrest?" Larijani said in May, without naming the president.
The three main opposition figures, who have been under house arrest since 2011 and denied adequate medical care, are in poor health, according to their families.
There are concerns particularly over the health of 79-year-old Karrubi, who was hospitalized this month at a Tehran hospital due to a heart condition.
Rohani could face a backlash if anything happens to the opposition leaders.
Karrubi's son tweeted this photograph of his father in the hospital:
Rohani is also under increased pressure over jailed dual U.S. nationals, including businessman Siamak Namazi and his 81-year-old father, Bagher Namazi, who are said to have been detained by the IRGC.
The White House has threatened the Islamic republic with "serious consequences” if it does not release all American citizens it is holding.
Political And Social Reforms
Many of the pro-reform supporters of Rohani are expecting the president to follow up on his promises to give them more social and political freedoms. But the Iranian president doesn’t have the last say. It is also not clear whether he’s ready to pick a fight with powerful hard-liners who oppose political liberalization.
Some have expressed disappointment in reports that Rohani’s future cabinet is not likely to include women as ministers.
"We supported him during the campaign, but now there is no place for us,” women’s rights advocate and journalist Jila Baniyaghoob told The New York Times.
This tweet says: Women who voted for Rohani versus those who were invited to his endorsement ceremony.