Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has dismissed his U.S. counterpart Donald Trump’s designation of Hezbollah as a terrorist organization and defended the Lebanese group and its role in both Lebanon and Syria. “Hezbollah is a group that is accepted and trusted by the Lebanese people and is present in Lebanon’s government and parliament through the popular vote,” Rouhani said at the first press conference since winning a second term in May 19 presidential elections. “It is respected by people in Lebanon, even by non-Muslims and Christians. Leveling accusations [against Hezbollah] will therefore not resolve any issues. We should fight terrorism sincerely,” he added. The Iranian president also defended Iran’s diplomatic and military roles in regional conflicts and emphasized that Tehran will continue to remain engaged in Iraq, Syria and other regional countries despite concerns raised by Washington and its allies.  

Comment: The Iranian president’s strong defense of the Lebanese Hezbollah and the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (I.R.G.C.)’s role in regional conflicts shows that Iran’s policies and actions in the region will not see any significant change under Rouhani’s second term. As in his first term, Rouhani will most likely focus on the economy and other domestic issues and will largely delegate Tehran’s regional policies to the I.R.G.C. – particularly in countries of strategic importance to Iran such as Syria, Iraq and Lebanon. But unless Rouhani dares to rein in the I.R.G.C.’s subversive activities across the Middle East, he will not be able to convince Washington to lift remaining sanctions that continue to hinder foreign investment in Iran and hamper the country’s economic growth.