Iran’s president Hassan Rouhani announced Sunday what he called a ‘budget of resistance’ to counter crippling US sanctions, weeks after a fuel price hike sparked nationwide protests that turned deadly.
Rouhani said the aim was to reduce ‘hardships’ as the Islamic republic has suffered a sharp economic downturn, with a plummeting currency sending inflation skyrocketing and hiking import prices.
The US sanctions imposed in May last year in a bitter dispute centred on Iran’s nuclear programme include an embargo on the crucial oil sector whose sales Washington aims to reduce to zero in a campaign of ‘maximum pressure’.
Rouhani told parliament that the budget, which includes a 15 per cent public sector wage hike, ‘is a budget of resistance and perseverance against sanctions’.
It would ‘announce to the world that despite sanctions we will manage the country, especially in terms of oil,’ he added.
Rouhani said the 4,845 trillion rial ($36 billion at the current street rate) budget was devised to help Iran’s people overcome difficulty.
It would benefit from a $5 billion ‘investment’ from Russia which was still being finalised, he said, without giving further details.
‘We know that under the situation of sanctions and pressure, people are in hardship. We know people’s purchasing power has declined,’ said Rouhani.
‘Our exports, our imports, the transfer of money, our foreign exchange encounter a lot of problems.
‘We all know that we encounter problems in exporting oil. Yet at the same time, we endeavour to reduce the difficulty of people’s livelihood.’
Rouhani said that despite the US sanctions his government estimated that Iran’s non-oil economy would ‘be positive’ this year.
‘Contrary to what the Americans thought, that with the pressure of sanctions our country’s economy would encounter problems, thank God we have chosen the correct path... and we are moving forward,’ he said.
Meanwhile, president Donald Trump had rare positive words for Iran on Saturday, thanking the US foe for a ‘very fair’ negotiation to successfully pull off a prisoner swap that saw an American released from Iranian detention amid soaring tensions.
The exchange, which took place in neutral Switzerland, involved a Princeton graduate student jailed in Iran for espionage since 2016 and an Iranian national arrested over a year ago in Chicago.
‘Thank you to Iran on a very fair negotiation,’ tweeted Trump, as Xiyue Wang made his way home to his family. The US leader was expected to welcome Wang in person when he arrives in the United States, after a stop in Germany for medical evaluations.
‘It was a one-on-one hostage swap,’ Trump told reporters. ‘I think it was great to show than we can do something. It might have been a precursor as to what can be done.’
A photo tweeted by the American Embassy in Bern showed Wang on a rainswept tarmac in Zurich with an official blue and white US jet in the background, hugging Ambassador Edward McMullen.
The Chinese-born American was in apparent good health and in ‘very, very good humor,’ said a senior US administration official.
Tehran had announced the release of its national, Massoud Soleimani, shortly before Trump revealed that Wang was returning home.
‘Glad that Professor Massoud Soleimani and Mr Xiyue Wang will be joining their families shortly,’ Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif tweeted - along with a photograph of himself and the scientist on a plane under the words ‘Going home.’
‘Many thanks to all engaged, particularly the Swiss government,’ which has looked after US interests in Iran in the absence of diplomatic ties, Zarif said.
The Swiss foreign ministry confirmed that the exchange - which it called a ‘humanitarian gesture’ - took place on its territory. Both the US and Iran credited Switzerland with an intensive diplomatic effort to secure the men’s release.
‘Our country stands ready for further facilitation,’ the foreign ministry statement said.