Aswat Asharq Al-Awsat :

Aswat Asharq Al-Awsat : Iran Presidential Hopefuls Debate Economy Ahead of Election

Presidential candidate Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf speaks during a campaign event in Tehran, Iran June 18, 2024. Majid Asgaripour/WANA (West Asia News Agency) via Reuters
Presidential candidate Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf speaks during a campaign event in Tehran, Iran June 18, 2024. Majid Asgaripour/WANA (West Asia News Agency) via Reuters
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Iran Presidential Hopefuls Debate Economy Ahead of Election

Presidential candidate Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf speaks during a campaign event in Tehran, Iran June 18, 2024. Majid Asgaripour/WANA (West Asia News Agency) via Reuters
Presidential candidate Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf speaks during a campaign event in Tehran, Iran June 18, 2024. Majid Asgaripour/WANA (West Asia News Agency) via Reuters

The six candidates vying to succeed ultraconservative president Ebrahim Raisi, who died in a helicopter crash, focused on revitalizing Iran's sanctions-hit economy in their first debate ahead of next week's election.

The contenders -- five conservatives and a sole reformer -- faced off in a four-hour live debate, vowing to address the financial challenges affecting the country's 85 million people.

Originally slated for 2025, the election was moved forward after Raisi's death on May 19 in a helicopter crash in northern Iran.

Long before the June 28 election, Iran had been grappling with mounting economic pressures, including international sanctions and soaring inflation.

"We will strengthen the economy so that the government can pay salaries according to inflation and maintain their purchasing power," conservative presidential hopeful Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf said.

Ghalibaf, Iran's parliament speaker, also pledged to work towards removing crippling US sanctions reimposed after then US president Donald Trump withdrew from the 2015 nuclear deal.

Iran's economy grew by 5.7 percent in the year to March 2024, with authorities targeting a further eight percent growth this year, driven by hydrocarbon exports.

The sole reformist candidate, Massoud Pezeshkian, said he would seek to build regional and global relations to achieve this growth.

He also called for easing internet restrictions in the country where Facebook, Instagram, Telegram and X are among the social media platforms banned.

Reformists, whose political influence has waned in the years since the 1979 revolution, have fallen in behind Pezeshkian after other moderate hopefuls were barred from standing.

Ultraconservative former nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili, however, said Iran did not need to repair its relations with the West.

He took aim at Trump, saying his policy of "maximum pressure" against Iran had "failed miserably".

- 'Maximum pressure' -

In the absence of opinion polls, Ghalibaf, Jalili and Pezeshkian are seen as the frontrunners for Iran's second highest-ranking job.

Ultimate authority in the state is wielded by the supreme leader rather the president with 85-year-old Ali Khamenei holding the post for 35 years.

Incumbent Vice President Amirhossein Ghazizadeh-Hashemi said during the debate he would seek to lower inflation following a "political leadership style similar to that of Martyr Raisi."

Raisi easily won Iran's 2021 election in which no reformist or moderate figures were allowed to run. Backed by Khamenei he had been tipped to possibly replace the supreme leader.

Iran’s relations with the West continued to suffer, particularly following the outbreak of the October 7 Gaza war.

Tehran's support for the Palestinian armed group Hamas, coupled with ongoing diplomatic tensions over Iran's nuclear program have hastened the decline.

Mostafa Pourmohammadi, the only cleric in the running, blamed international sanctions for "blocking the economy" and "making financial transactions impossible".

Tehran's conservative mayor, Alireza Zakani, said the US sanctions were "cruel" but were not the main problem behind Iran's economic hardship.

"We should emphasize the economic independence of the country, de-dollarize the economy and rely on our own national currency," he said.



Aswat Asharq Al-Awsat : Ukraine Seeking 'Common Ground' with China in Talks on Ending War with Russia

In this image taken from video released by the Ukraine Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ukraine's Foreign Ministry Dmytro Kuleba, third from left holds talks with China's Foreign Minister Wang Yi at a meeting in the southern Chinese city of Guangzhou on Wednesday, July 24, 2024. (Ukraine's Ministry of Foreign Affairs via AP)
In this image taken from video released by the Ukraine Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ukraine's Foreign Ministry Dmytro Kuleba, third from left holds talks with China's Foreign Minister Wang Yi at a meeting in the southern Chinese city of Guangzhou on Wednesday, July 24, 2024. (Ukraine's Ministry of Foreign Affairs via AP)
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Ukraine Seeking 'Common Ground' with China in Talks on Ending War with Russia

In this image taken from video released by the Ukraine Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ukraine's Foreign Ministry Dmytro Kuleba, third from left holds talks with China's Foreign Minister Wang Yi at a meeting in the southern Chinese city of Guangzhou on Wednesday, July 24, 2024. (Ukraine's Ministry of Foreign Affairs via AP)
In this image taken from video released by the Ukraine Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ukraine's Foreign Ministry Dmytro Kuleba, third from left holds talks with China's Foreign Minister Wang Yi at a meeting in the southern Chinese city of Guangzhou on Wednesday, July 24, 2024. (Ukraine's Ministry of Foreign Affairs via AP)

Ukraine's Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba has said he is seeking “common ground” in talks this week with his Chinese counterpart on ending his country's war with Russia.

Kuleba met Wednesday with Foreign Minister Wang Yi in Guangzhou, a major commercial and manufacturing center in southern China. It is the first visit to the country by a Ukrainian foreign minister since Russia's invasion of Ukraine, which has strained Ukraine's relations with China.

“I am convinced that a just peace in Ukraine is in China’s strategic interests, and China’s role as a global force for peace is important,” Kuleba said in opening remarks.

China has close ties with Russia and has pushed for an end to the war that would take into account the interests of both sides. That position has put it at odds not only with Ukraine but also Western European countries and the United States, which are demanding a Russian withdrawal as the basis for any settlement.

China did not participate in a peace conference in Switzerland last month that did not include Russia.
Kuleba was expected to lobby Chinese officials to attend another peace conference planned for sometime before the American presidential election in early November. His visit reflects a calculation that any peace deal favorable to Ukraine would likely be a non-starter without China on board.

Chinese officials maintained that the two countries have friendly and cooperative relations. Noting the growth in trade between them, Wang said in his opening remarks that ties have continued to develop normally “despite complex and ever-changing international and regional situations.”

Kuleba arrived in China on Tuesday and is scheduled to depart on Friday. In a video posted late Tuesday on his social media accounts, Kuleba said he would have extensive negotiations to look for common ground in the pursuit of peace in Ukraine.

“We need to move to a just and stable peace,” he said, according to a translation posted by Euromaiden Press, an English-language news site on Ukraine. “China can play a significant role in this. Let’s go," The Associated Press quoted him as saying.

His visit follows a rare public rebuke of China by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in June. Zelenskyy accused China of helping Russia block countries from participating in the Swiss peace conference. China denied pressuring others.

It was the first time Zelenskyy had departed from careful attempts to court Beijing away from its strong relationship with Moscow.

China published a separate six-point peace plan with Brazil ahead of the conference. The move and the timing likely angered Ukrainian officials who were in the midst of seeking support for their peace proposal.

"We must avoid the competition of peace plans," Kuleba said in his social media video this week.