Hassan Rowhani and the Rise of a Moderate Voice
Hassan Rowhani and the Rise of a Moderate Voice

In a period of unrest, few events in the Middle East have given cause for hope.  The recent victory of Hassan Rowhani as Iran’s new president marks a new era in Iranian foreign policy, and more accurately displays the character of Iranian public opinion.  This comes after the extraordinarily controversial terms of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, whose rhetoric was condemned on a nearly monthly basis as it related to Israel and the West. On the other hand, the beginning of Rowhani’s term seems relatively auspicious given his promises of moderation.  That being said, these promises are still contingent on certain actions from foreign powers that seem unlikely when looking at the history of US-Israeli-Iranian relations.

The U.S.’s close ties with Israel will make for an interesting obstacle to serious talks between the U.S. and Iran, especially since pressure has been mounting on the U.S. – and the rest of the world – to take serious action against Iran and its nuclear program.  Anyone can find examples of this in most recent speeches by Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu – most notably in his “red lines” speech at the United Nations last September.  According to Netanyahu, Iran had not yet crossed the “red line” of nuclear enrichment, but they would soon unless the rest of the world intervened to make sure they did not cross that line (Keinon, 2013).  Therefore, the new moderate voice rising in Iran demonstrates how one country’s domestic election can impact and get responses from all corners of the globe.

Implications for Israel

Netanyahu and Israeli government officials have been pushing for outside pressure to the halt the Iranian nuclear program for years, since they see it as a direct threat to Israeli national security.  Statements by the new President of Iran serve to undermine the legitimacy of such fears and give hope to Western officials for improved relations in the future.  Still, Netanyahu is urging world powers not to give up ground on pressuring the halt and to curb hopeful expectations: “Let us not delude ourselves.  The international community must not become caught up in wishful thinking and be tempted to relax the pressure on Iran to stop its nuclear program” (Federman, 2013).

The continued pressure, Netanyahu argues, is just as important now as it was previously because the economic sanctions put in place during Ahmadinejad’s terms were causal factors that led to the election of a moderate in the first place (Ahren, 2013).  Whether this is true or not, Israel continues to try and keep the ball rolling on increased sanctions and potential military engagement.  However, it might be important to remember that a truly moderate voice in Iran, if in fact honesty, is a good thing for both Israel and Iran – in terms of safety and economy respectively.

Implications for the United States

In the United States, Washington officials can choose to hear the moderate voice coming from the other side of the world – or drown it out with disbelief.  Most would argue that this is an opportune time for the U.S. to try to change the status quo, since Rowhani has already proven himself to be a serious and influential negotiation on nuclear issues (“US prepared to ‘engage Iran directly’”, 2013).  Furthermore, Rowhani’s mere nomination in the election denoted Ayatollah Khamenei’s support, which suggests that he has some clout and potential to affect change on domestic and international policy.

However, so far, Washington’s policies have not changed towards Iran other than a stated willingness to engage diplomatically with them.  This comes after Iran decided to suspend uranium enrichment up to 20 percent (lower than required to pursue the creation of an atomic bomb), and letting this action go unanswered is a gamble (McElroy, 2013).  Without a proper response, The U.S. and the West might run the risk of creating a truly important missed opportunity.

Other Countries’ Responses

Other world powers have voiced their support for Rowhani’s rise to power, and have stated a willingness to engage with the new President of Iran.  Russian President Vladimir Putin has expressed confidence that Rowhani’s rise to power will lead to an improvement in relations between the two countries. Former British foreign secretary Jack Straw has praised Rowhani’s character directly after having dealt with him in nuclear negotiations between 2003 and 2005. French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius has expressed his readiness to work with Rowhani on issues like the nuclear program and the conflict in Syria… the reactions go on (“US prepared to ‘engage Iran directly’”, 2013).

There have also been important reactions in the Middle East.  The Syrian opposition movement has stated that this election could be an opening to improve relations between itself and Tehran, and has called on Rowhani to “rectify the mistakes made by the Iranian leadership”, a reference to former President Ahmadinejad’s support of Bashsar al-Assad.  Furthermore, the Gulf states, which have had tense relations with Iran in the past, have also had positive reactions to Rowhani’s ascent.  Leaders of Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, and the UAE have all congratulated him.  Specifically, this is seen as particularly important for UAE President Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed al-Nahyan, who has expressed a desire to work together for the betterment of their peoples – an important goal when considering UAE’s claim that Iran has been occupying three islands that the UAE claims to own (“US prepared to ‘engage Iran directly’”, 2013).

Conclusion

It is still early to tell whether Rowhani’s promises of moderation are being said earnestly and with the intention of being put into effect, or whether they will fade into the background as the “honeymoon” phase of his presidency similarly draws to a close.  That being said, Rowhani has made some encouraging statements in his speeches on topics from global outreach and engagement to domestic issues like gender equality.  Still, some doubt remains not only about Rowhani’s willingness to follow through with his promises, but also just his ability to given the structure of Iran’s governmental system.

Some argue that it does not matter how willing Rowhani is to engage with the outside world – the power still resides with Ayatollah Khamenei.  Though this may be true, Hassan Rowhani’s rhetoric gives hope for a more globalized approach to politics.  After all, he says, “The basis of politics is constructive interaction with the world” (Dorell, 2013).  As can be seen from the volume of responses to the election of just one country, it seems that Rowhani may be right.  Though a domestic process, Iran’s government election has serious implications for the entire world – whether directly to Israel or to America by proxy – and the practicality of hope remains to be validated so far.

Will Hassan Rowhani become the moderate voice he promises to be and the rest of the world hopes he will be?  Will Israeli politicians relent on their military threats and calls for increased pressure?  Will the people of Iran get a more effective government?  This all remains to be seen, but the mere presence of a moderate voice is a positive development when other less moderate voices could be in its place.  For a country like Iran, whose political reputation has been uncompromising and dangerous, this is exactly what they need, and provides at least somewhere to start for foreign powers.

Israel, which has long viewed Iran as a sort of “time bomb,” should be keen on taking advantage of this opportunity.  If the opportunity arises and is not squandered by too much caution or hard-bargaining, the moderation of Iranian politics could lead to economic growth in Iran, a safer Israel, and a less anxious world populace.  In this way, the election of Hassan Rowhani demonstrates how one country’s domestic process can ripple across the entire globe.

Works Cited

The Rohani challenge. (2013, June 16). Jerusalem Post. Retrieved from: http://www.jpost.com/Opinion/Editorials/The-Rohani-challenge-316758

US prepared to ‘engage Iran directly’ (2013, June 16). Al Jazeera. Retrieved from: http://www.aljazeera.com/news/middleeast/2013/06/2013615193023927274.html

Ahren, R. (2013, June 17). PM: Rowhani has no power to change nuclear policy. The Times of Israel. Retrieved from: http://www.timesofisrael.com/pm-rowhani-has-no-power-to-change-nuclear-policy/

Dorell, O. (2013, June 17). Iran president talks moderation, maintains nuclear goal. USA Today. Retrieved from: http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/world/2013/06/17/iran-president-elect-foreign-policy/2431401/

Federman, J. (2013, June 16). Rowhani election win complicates Israeli push to halt Iran’s nuclear program. CTVNews. Retrieved  from: http://www.ctvnews.ca/politics/rowhani-election-win-complicates-israeli-push-to-halt-iran-s-nuclear-program-1.1327562

Foroohar, K. (2013, June 17). Rohani Victory May Curb Support for Israeli Attack on Iran. Bloomberg.com. Retrieved from: http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2013-06-16/rohani-victory-may-undermine-support-for-israeli-attack-on-iran.html

Keinon, H. (2013, April 29). PM: Iran hasn’t reached ‘red line’ in nuke program. Jerusalem Post. Retrieved from: http://www.jpost.com/Diplomacy-and-Politics/PM-Iran-has-not-reached-red-line-in-its-nuclear-program-311453

Landau, E. B. (2013, July 2). Hassan Rohani, West’s false hope for a nuclear deal with Iran. Haaretz. Retrieved from: http://www.haaretz.com/opinion/hassan-rohani-west-s-false-hope-for-a-nuclear-deal-with-iran.premium-1.533302

McElroy, D. (2013, June 18). Iran ‘ready to suspend 20 per cent uranium enrichment.’ The Telegraph. Retrieved from: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/middleeast/iran/10128584/Iran-ready-to-suspend-20-per-cent-uranium-enrichment.html

Schoen, D. (2013, June 16). What Does Rowhani’s Election As Iran’s President Mean for America? Forbes. Retrieved from: http://www.forbes.com/sites/dougschoen/2013/06/16/what-does-rouhanis-win-mean-for-america/

Tomlinson, H. (2013, July 1). Moderation key as Hassan Rowhani pledges ‘new path’ for Iran. The Australian. Retrieved from: http://www.theaustralian.com.au/news/world/moderation-key-as-hassan-rowhani-pledges-new-path-for-iran/story-fnb64oi6-1226672396031

* Rowhani picture: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Hassan_Rouhani.jpg
* Iran wall flag picture: http://www.flickr.com/photos/12982516@N02/6432619315/in/photolist-aNqRBz-dcVAbb-bz6Bix-afbwZs-bSEBjH-ctV3um-aSRqtv-bUFwa8-dJVSWf-dJMWqa-c7PTEw-7zS24B-7zVMa5-7zVLMG-7zVLxw-7zVL6j-7zVLk5-7zRYSx-7zRZbT-7zRZvc-7zRYBx-7zRVV8-7zRWpk-7zVJFG-7zRXek-7zRXJi-7zVFGf-7zVFZE-bMB9uH-aBbQKU-aB99Q6-7zVFrm-7zVJtQ-7zVFgu-7zRULp-7zVEP3-7zVHhq-7zVECG-7zVHSm-cNQBcA-d8egXw-aU6LCe-eTDMbw-dXMpRv-eKZTEB-dJVmMo-dJVmNC-dJVmZb-dJVn79-dJVn2U-dJPVm6
* Iran-US flags picture: http://www.flickr.com/photos/maxbraun/5463491173/sizes/m/in/photolist-9jMPzF-87ebsA-bZzSQh-bZzSLN-bZzSJs-bZzSNf-8aHhhA-e24Msk-e2zcPR-amfnRK-e2b8FW-e2bNmw-dDTKGY-9fC6DH-dpYTZW-9qPXXH-azWC2W-axdcRw-9qSWMq-e6kYWA-9qSZEw/

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