The US president-elect has injected hopes into the Rouhani government for fresh talks by signaling a willingness to reenter and revive the Iran nuclear deal, from which Trump walked away in 2018. Still, the moderate administration in Tehran continues to face bumps on the road. During a televised speech on Friday, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who holds the final word on foreign policy matters, asserted that Tehran is “in no rush” to see the US rejoin the accord before the latter lifts anti-Iran sanctions.
The country’s hard-line parliament is also doggedly pushing a series of measures, including uranium enchainment at the 20% level, which is viewed by the Western signatories as a serious breach that may trigger an effective collapse of the deal.
Still, Rouhani’s challenges are not simply posed by domestic rivalries. In the United States, the incoming administration is receiving cautions from key members of the Trump administration to stand tough and avoid normalizing ties with Tehran. “The reality is you have a better chance finding a unicorn,” wrote Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in a series of tweets, alleging that Iran has been harboring al-Qaeda.
While Pompeo has yet to back up the statement, it was not immediately clear how it would be treated by the new administration. Yet he seemed to have tossed a grenade among Iranian officials in Tehran, triggering an endless torrent of condemnations. Among others, the country’s Foreign Ministry Spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh defended Iran’s “transparent record in fighting al-Qaeda terrorism,” dismissing Pompeo’s “baseless claims” as a sign of the Trump team’s “desperation” from “their failed ‘maximum pressure’ policy.”