Iranian Media Speculate over Rouhani’s No-show in Vienna
(Austrian President Heinz Fischer in his September 2015 visit to Iran. Source: AFP)
On March 31, a few hours before his second European tour, while the flight carrying 110-strong Iranian trade delegation had just landed in the Vienna International Airport, Iran's President Hassan Rouhani decided to cancel his trip. The official website of the presidential office announced cancellation of the visit in a brief statement, addressing “security reasons” as the cause. The visit, the website added, will take place “in an appropriate time” after further coordination between the two sides takes place.
Speculations were made about the true motives of Rouhani's decision from the moment the news spread. In his interview with BBC Persian, Austrian president Heintz Fischer denied existence of security concerns, adding that Vienna had established the highest security level for the Iranian president. Earlier, an anonymous Iranian official was quoted that cancellation was due to Austrian government's refusal to block planned demonstrations by 'Zionists'. However, most Iranian media spoke of the terrorist opposition group Mujahedin-e Khalgh Organization (MKO) decision to hold rallies on the day of Rouhani's visit to Vienna.
Inside Iran, pro-Rouhani figures and media touted MKO's rally as the real reason for cancellation of the trip. Rouhani’s popular Minister of Health, Hassan Ghazizadeh Hashemi, supported Rouhani's decision. “I am not an expert in diplomacy, but I praise Mr. Rouhani’s Islamic and national pride, and his persistence in confronting terrorists and murderers,” Hashemi said. “Hosts to representatives of our brave, dear nation should acknowledge the significance of Iranian dignity and power.” Minister of Health also criticized the state-run TV for relying on the Austrian president’s narrative of the cancelled trip.
Parliamentary Speaker Ali Larijani, a moderate Principlist who enjoys friendly relations with Rouhani, also backed the president’s decision. Speaking to Iranian Students’ News Agency, Larijani called the cancellation “a correct decision” and criticized the vague atmosphere created by media over the true motives of cancellation.
Rouhani’s critics in the hardliner Principlist camp however searched for different reasons for cancellation of the trip. Mehr News Agency, having tilted further towards the Principlist camp after Rouhani’s 2013 election, cast doubt over security concerns or news of demonstration by pro-Israeli lobbies. According to Mehr, ban on SWIFT transactions for Iranian banks, probably the most important sanctions-related concern for Iranians, continues to exist and the Austrian President’s direct confession is the true cause of Rouhani’s refusal to visit Vienna. Farhang News (another Principlist news website) also rejected claims that MKO’s demonstrations were the true reason or cancellation of the trip, citing previous instances of the terrorist group’s demonstrations during Rouhani’s visit to Paris. Kayhan, the ultimate hardliner newspaper, also spoke of “post-JCPOA sanctions” as the real reason that Rouhani cancelled his trip to Vienna. “Despite massive propaganda around Rouhani’s visit to Italy and France, continued sanctions and pressures by the United States, have stripped these visits off any real economic value for our country, limiting it to mere rhetoric, i.e. a few legally non-credible MoUs” the newspaper said.