As the nuclear talks deadline was extended yet again (this time for seven months), and it still remains to be seen whether this will mean more sanctions on the people of Iran, it is time to look at the person who probably has the most to lose by this situation: Iran’s president Hassan Rouhani.
The Promise in Rouhani
Rouhani, it must be remembered, was elected a year and a half ago on the basis of reformation and getting the country’s economy into motion after long years of stagnation from sanctions, among other things. This is still far from being the case.
We cannot ignore that under his rule, Iran is indeed trying to speak with the West, although its tactic can be summarized as “stall + divide“. Also, most critics and experts on Iran agree that the true power lies in the hand of supreme leader, Ali Khamenei.
But Rouhani is a symbol of sorts, having been elected on the slogan “Government of Prudence and Hope”, one might argue that Rouhani is the only viable partner for talks in the current regime. Holding that assumption, it is quite alarming, when putting 2 and 2 together, to see that Rouhani is in big trouble politically.
Growing Opposition to Rouhani
Reports from Tehran suggest that there is plan for a coup d’état in Iran. There is also the political blunder Rouhani has been facing for a long time now, when he was unable to appoint a science minister, a fact that marks clear problems with the Iranian parliament. Also, there are always tensions with the IRGC and other hardliners in Iran who, on the whole, vehemently resist any concessions on the nuclear program.
Were Iran a Western country, Rouhani might rely on the popular support he receives from his public. But a) even that support seems to be slipping away from him and b) popular support can be easily overridden in Tehran with one word by Khamenei just as in the bungled 2009 elections.
Rouhani: Under or East?
We shouldn’t be surprised then, that this might be the moment that his foes from inside have been waiting for and that the failure of the nuclear negotiations might lead to a severe backlash that Tehran’s hardliners must have been praying for.
Either that, or Rouhani will have to go down an alternative path: give up on rapprochement with the West and the elimination of sanctions while choosing to “buddy-up” to an “anti-West” coalition headed by Russia and backed by China, members of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) and neighbors who may have a strategic economic interest such as India.
In any case, the West will have lost the chance to normalize its relationship with Iran even though no one really knows how the West would benefit from such a friendship.