Dr. Hassan Rouhani’s election as Iran’s new president surprised many foreign affairs analysts.
He was seen as a potential moderate regarding domestic and foreign affairs versus his predecessor’s conservative policies. Rouhani’s election may well result in a serious progress toward resolving the controversy over Iran’s nuclear program.
But he faces several challenges regarding the Iranian nuclear program.
Rouhani has extensive foreign and domestic policy experience, which he’ll need to form an approach that:
Eases crippling U.S. and E.U. economic sanctions.
Placates American and European concerns regarding Tehran’s nuclear program.
Pacifies Iran’s political establishment regarding with issues.
Rouhani served as secretary of the Supreme National Security Council, Iran’s top security position, from 1989 to 2005, a body he remains a part of. He was Tehran’s lead negotiator to the Iranian nuclear talks from 2003 to 2005. He understands Iran’s domestic politics, considering he was a member of Iran’s Parliament for five terms. And has a strong appreciation of Western attitudes a Ph.D. from the United Kingdom’s Glasgow Caledonian University.
Rouhani’s top policy objective will be two-fold: First, allaying U.S. and E.U. concerns that Iran’s nuclear program has a military element; and second, convincing both to ease financial sanctions that have decimated Tehran’s economy — sanctions instituted to persuade Iran to abandon its nuclear efforts. The measures resulted in a decrease in the value of Iran’s national currency, the rial, by 50 percent; an inflation rate between 32 percent and 42 percent; a national youth unemployment rate of almost 30 percent; and a severe damaging of Tehran’s oil, energy and trade sectors.
Washington and Brussels’ concerns regarding Iran’s nuclear program are buttressed by Tehran’s refusal to end its uranium enrichment activities, plus denying International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors access to key military and nuclear sites, most notably the Parchin and Arak facilities.
Rouhani contends that Iran’s right to nuclear energy is guaranteed under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. He opposes suspending Iran’s uranium enrichment undertakings.
But he also supports greater transparency of Tehran’s nuclear program. And favors “confidence-building measures” to allay the E.U. and U.S. anxieties in exchange for suspending economic sanctions.
Roubani is aware that resolving Iran’s difference with the United States is probably the key element to resolving the crisis. His terms for negotiating with Washington are that the United States must comply with the 1981 Algiers Accords, which call for the United States to refrain from interfering in Iran’s internal affairs, unfreezing Tehran’s financial assets, and recognizing Iran’s right to nuclear energy.
Rouhani’s positions are interesting since he has not publicly supported or refuted Tehran’s previous policy of contending that Iran’s military sites are exempt from inspection under the treaty. He also acknowledged in a 2004 private meeting that Iran’s secretive efforts in the beginning phases of its nuclear program were problematic. Both are indicators of a potential negotiating flexibility.
Iran’s political structure may pose a challenge for Rouhani. Tehran’s governing system allows the president to set the country’s policy tone, while the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, decides the nation’s policies.
Beneath Khamenei are the Guardian Council of the Constitution and the Revolutionary Guards Corps. Both bodies report directly to Khamenei. Rouhani also has direct control over both. The corps has the most to gain and lose from any decisions regarding Iran’s nuclear program. It is suspected of controlling a third of Iran’s economy. The Revolutionary Guards Corps additionally plays a significant role in the country’s nuclear program. Rouhani’s negotiation policies regarding the nuclear program will be carefully scrutinized by the corps.
Rouhani is in an interesting political position. He was overwhelming supported by the electorate, an electorate seeking socio-economic-political reforms. It’s a message Khamenei and many Iranian policymakers have been hesitant to heed. He has also been reluctant to shift Iran’s stance on its nuclear program, which has arguably resulted in Iran’s economic hardships.
Rouhani has a reputation for being a skilled navigator of Iran’s political system. He is also close friend of Khamenei. Both may prove beneficial in Rouhani’s efforts to resolve the controversy over Iran’s nuclear program.
A strong possibility is the Iranian nuclear talks are at a turning point. All parties are seeking progress. Perhaps the one entity with the most to gain, and lose, is Iran. As a former Rouhani aide remarked, “He is prepared to reach common ground, but only if the other side (reciprocates).”
The United States and European Union have shown their cards. Now it’s the Iranians’ turn.
Matthew Kennedy has a master’s degree in diplomatic studies from the University of Westminster in London. He’s lived in Europe, Asia and Russia. Comments or questions can be directed to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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