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'Look East!,' Says Khamenei, Disappointed With Europe's Efforts To Save JCPOA

IRAN -- Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei attends a ceremony in a military academy, in Tehran, June 30, 2018
IRAN -- Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei attends a ceremony in a military academy, in Tehran, June 30, 2018

Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has elaborated on his disappointment with Europe during an October 17 meeting with a group his website has described as Iran's "academic elites and prominent scholars."

"We should look East, not West. Pinning our hope on the West or Europe would belittle us as we would beg them for favor and they would do nothing," Khamenei told the group which included Iranian academics returning from various Western countries.

Instead, Khamenei said that Iran should look East, "where countries are taking quick steps on their roads to growth," The Iranian Students News Agency (ISNA) quoted him as saying on Wednesday.

Khamenei had suggested earlier to President Hassan Rouhani that his government should abandon hope in Europe's initiatives to save the nuclear deal with the West or help Iran's failing economy to improve.

European states promised to save the nuclear deal with Iran, officially known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) after the United States withdrew from the agreement in May.

EU officials have also promised to introduce a financial arrangement to protect European companies from the impact of US sanctions. Major European companies have already left Iran fearing US sanctions can damage their interests in other markets.

After the U.S. withdrawal from JCPOA, Khameni had expressed his disappointment with initial European reactions, but had reluctantly agreed that Iran should remain in the nuclear deal as Europe tried to save it.

While allowing talks to continue with European countries, Khamenei reiterated that he was "suspicious" about Europe's promises. This is in line with the aging leader’s consistent anti-Western posture and policies.

Khamenei repeated his suspicion of Europe on Wednesday while President Rouhani and his Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif as well as some other Iranian officials have sounded upbeat about Europe's measure, although few details have been released.

Zarif said in a recent interview with the BBC that what Europe has offered "was possibly better than what we originally expected." However, U.S. officials have repeatedly voiced doubts if any EU measures can dissipate the concerns companies might have about violating sanctions. The bottom line is, they insist, whether companies prefer to do business with the U.S. or with Iran, with a much smaller market.

While stressing on the futility of interaction with the West, Khamenei did not mention who in the East Iran should turn to. One can surmise that mentioning quick economic growth, could have been an allusion to India, South Korea and China and perhaps Indonesia and Malaysia to a lesser extent. This comes while South Korea has already stopped importing oil from Iran several weeks ahead of the second round of US sanctions that target Iran's oil exports and international banking operations and the only prospect for trade with India and China is an outdated form of barter trade.

At the same time, a sharp devaluation of Iranian currency, the rial, has increased the rate of exchange for US dollar from 35,000 rials to over 190,000 rials during the past seven months, and unemployment, mismanagement, corruption and discrimination have paralyzed the economy. But Khamenei is still in denial of the country's worst economic crisis ever, and said on Wednesday that reports about the economic crisis were merely disparaging images Iran’s "enemies" draw.

Khamenei said that "in spite of fluctuations in the foreign exchange market and problems in people's life, the real image of the country is diagonally different from what foreigners portray." However, he did not explain what led him to believe there was nothing wrong with the state of the economy.

Just three days before his latest remarks, Khamenei revealed his vision for the year 2065, saying Iran would be one of the world's top ten economies.