The meaning of Iran’s new president

The election of moderate cleric Hassan Rohani as Iran’s next president signifies that the country is now more willing to engage in to help build further international trust in its nuclear program, provided that Western powers are committed to genuine reciprocity vis-a-vis Iran, according to an article published by Asia Times Online on Wednesday.
Following are excerpts of the text of the article written by Abolghasem Bayyenat, an independent foreign policy analyst covering Iran’s foreign policy developments:

The landslide victory of Hassan Rohani, a moderate and pro-reform cleric, in Iran’s recent presidential election came as a surprise to many observers within and outside of Iran.

Although Rohani’s win was a major gain for the moderate and reformist political groups in Iran – and consequently a major loss for the conservative groups – its implications are far greater than a simple adjustment in the balance of power in Iran’s domestic politics.

Prior to the election, a sizable portion of Iran’s population had lost faith in the integrity and… of Iran’s elections, especially since the presidential vote of 2009. Rohani’s first-round victory… helped restore public trust in the electoral system and promote national reconciliation and cohesion.

… the healthy and undisputed nature of Iran’s recent presidential election, along with high voter turnout, have contributed to a greater sense of security. This in turn may translate into improved political tolerance at home and increased self-confidence abroad.

Of course, the direction of Iran’s foreign policy in the coming years remains to be determined.

Iran’s president-elect is a relatively moderate and pro-reform politician who has promised “constructive engagement” with the outside world and a more rational and calculated foreign policy.

Given Rohani’s centrist positions and his trusted relationship with Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah (Ali) Khamenei, Rohani is expected to face less resistance from conservative circles as he tries to realize his electoral promises.

The special domestic and international circumstances facing Iran today have produced different priorities for the Iranian leadership… This explains why Rohani, like most of his conservative rivals, emphasized plans for addressing the dire economic situation at home through more efficient economic management and better relations with the outside world. It also explains why most presidential candidates were critical of incumbent President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s foreign policy, including his handling of the nuclear issue.

Rohani’s victory thus reflects the public perception that he will be better poised than his conservative rivals to address Iran’s present challenges.

Perhaps no words better capture this sentiment than the opening lines of an editorial by a news site affiliated with the former Revolutionary Guards commander – and losing independent presidential candidate – Mohsen Rezaei. Published right after Iran’s election results were announced, the editorial read: “The defeat of the principlists (conservatives) was necessary, even more so than daily bread! The principlists should understand that they cannot be inefficient and at the same time expect the people to once again embrace them in droves.” The editorial reached its punch line by noting that, “The people said ‘no’ to the principlists because they cherish life and wished to send a new greeting to life. The principlists should understand that people desire a better life more than anything else.”

Rohani’s electoral victory – and the general consensus among Iranian political elites today on the need to address Iran’s economic problems and to pursue a more cautious foreign policy – should not be understood to mean that Iran will be more willing to suspend its uranium enrichment activities.

What it does signify is that Iran is now more determined to address Western concerns in return for a lifting of Western economic sanctions and recognition of Iran’s right to peaceful nuclear enrichment. As Rohani stated in his post-election press conference, there are a variety of mutual confidence-building measures, short of suspending nuclear enrichment activities, that Iran is willing to engage in to help build further international trust in its nuclear program, provided that Western powers are committed to genuine reciprocity vis-a-vis Iran.

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