Following eight years of international controversy and domestic turmoil under the reign of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Iran’s recent elections may indicate a forthcoming era of transition and change. In June of this year, 62-year-old cleric Hassan Rouhani was elected president, winning by a narrow margin with 50.7% of the vote.
President Rouhani ran on a platform of “prudence and hope” in which he promised to address critical issues such as the desperate state of Iran’s economy. To solve his country’s economic woes, the new president must consider Iran’s extreme isolation from the global community. International sanctions targeting Iran’s nuclear weapons program have severely damaged the Iranian economy and may impede any future initiatives towards recovery.
Due to his seemingly moderate and conservative approach to politics, Rouhani has inspired many Iranians with confidence in his capacity to thaw relations with the Western world. He formerly acted as a nuclear negotiator under President Mohammad Khatami, suggesting that he may be more willing to compromise than previous leaders.
On September 24, the president travelled to New York City to attend the opening of the UN General Assembly. In his first appearance on the world stage since this summer’s elections, Mr Rouhani agreed to a new meeting on Thursday to continue nuclear negotiations with six world powers. Although the new president reiterated a long-standing position that any agreement must involve the West’s recognition of Iran’s right to enrich uranium, he also stressed his own personal stance that “every issue can be resolved through moderation and rejection of violence.”
Currently, neither Britain nor the United States maintains a diplomatic presence in Iran. However, British Prime Minister David Cameron and US President Barack Obama have responded positively to the newly elected Iranian administration. Both Washington and London see the transition of power as an opportunity to improve relations with Tehran.
Since taking office on 3 August 2013, President Rouhani has made an effort to demonstrate his commitment to “flexibility and friendship” in foreign policy. In a recent opinion piece in The Washington Post, he acknowledged the need to develop strong relations with the West.
“I am committed to fulfilling my promises to my people,” wrote Mr Rouhani, “including my pledge to engage in constructive interaction with the world.”
In the recent Syrian crisis, the president encouraged dialogue between the Syrian government and rebel forces, though many are still sceptical of Rouhani’s attempts to differentiate himself from past leaders. Iran remains a major ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, and President Rouhani has continued to supply Assad’s regime with financial support and military aid. The enduring Iran-Syria alliance has led opposition groups to scoff at Rouhani’s offer to broker talks, deeming the proposal “laughable” and “lacking credibility.”
The question still remains whether President Rouhani is sincere in his pursuit of international diplomacy. Is his moderate stance a facade, or is he truly open to negotiation and cooperation? Another factor to consider is the role played by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s most powerful figure. Rouhani’s success at bringing about real change will largely depend upon Khamenei’s support. Over the next few months, Rouhani will have the opportunity to demonstrate his strength and influence as an international leader.
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