Promises of Change
Rouhani’s ticket was based on one word: change.
Now elected, the question is: will he change the budgetary priorities – the nuclear program, violent proxy groups and Bashar Assad – set by Khamenei?
His voters found in him a man who understood that the Iranian people do not have to carry the burden of a mismanaged foreign policy headed by stubborn hardliners who found pride in thumbing their noses at “the West”.
Rouhani promises “reconciliation and peace” but more importantly he promises “good international interactions to gradually reduce the sanctions and finally remove them.”
His main priority right now is to change the whole tone at the negotiating table in order to alleviate sanctions. With titles such as “liberal”, “moderate cleric” and “top nuclear negotiator”, he seems to be the right man for the job.
Rouhani’s talk appeals to Iranians as well as “the West” but it remains to be seen if he can – or even wants – to walk the talk on a nuclear tightrope held by Supreme Leader Khamenei. In other words, Rouhani has to kill the sanctions AND keep Khamenei’s nuclear ambitions alive.
How Much Will Change?
To be sure, after years of stale dealings with Khamenei, Ahmadinejad and Jalili, who, in Rouhani’s words “brought sanctions to the country…Yet, they are proud of it“, western negotiators will find in Rouhani a breath of fresh air. He is sure to change at least the tone of Tehran’s foreign policy. This will probably mean that there will be less fiery rhetoric against the West at future P5+1 meetings.
But…although Rouhani can change the tone of foreign policy, nuclear policy is dictated by only one man in Tehran – Khamenei – and as long as Khamenei is in power, the nuclear program will stay on track. Furthermore, Rouhani is not anti-nuclear by any means – as can be judged by his answer to allegations that he had halted the nuclear program on his watch “It’s good if you study history…We suspended it? We mastered the (nuclear) technology!”.
Khamenei, who over the last few years catapulted himself to the front-stage may take a tactical step back and allow Rouhani the necessary space he needs to bring about the promised change in atmosphere. In fact, Khamenei may have found in Rouhani a way out from his predicament of being to hardline for the West as well as Iranians.
Changing the Tune, not the Lyrics
Yes, Rouhani will bring with him a marked change to how Iran is perceived and accepted by the West and hopefully for him and the Iranian people, he will be able to alleviate sanctions.
Khamenei, the IRGC and the whole structure of government in Tehran are bound to free the reigns a bit and give Rouhani some leeway. In fact the ”IRGC says its ready to cooperate w/Rowhani. IMO only until he has helped end sanctions & restored their businesses“. What happens after he successfully achieves that is left unsaid.
Rouhani is quoted to have said “It is good to have centrifuges running, provided people’s lives & livelihoods are also running“. So he clearly wants the centrifuges, but also wants the people to live better. In other words, unlike way back in Pakistan, Rouhani does not believe the people should “eat grass” for the sake of the nuclear program, but that a way needs to be found for Iran to have its proverbial cake and eat it too.
At the end of the day, Rouhani’s drive for change is focused mainly on the way the nuclear issue was handled by his compatriots but not on the aspirations themselves. His job now is to allow Khamanei to continue with budgetary priorities which favor the nuclear program, support for violent proxy groups and Bashar Assad. And these are priorities which Rouhani, as a longstanding member of Iran’s National Security Council, is extremely familiar with.
Update from June 17th Press Conference
In Rouhani’s first official press conference, hopes for change are mixed with “more of the same” rhetoric.
- Yes, there will be “greater transparency” BUT this is only because “Our nuclear programmes are completely transparent” – some IAEA and the P5+1 negotiators would beg to differ.
- Just in case there was any misunderstanding, Iran’s “nuclear activities are legal” BUT enrichment will continue. Meanwhile, AEOI Director Fereydoun Abbasi stated today that Tehran has “No plan for enriched uranium beyond 20%” – disregarding the fact that enrichment up to 20% was one of the reasons for the nuclear debacle.
- And as to the sanctions themselves – “The sanctions are unfair…illegal and only benefit Israel.”