Iran Focus: Iran has a new president in cleric Hassan Rowhani. But this cosmetic facelift for a dead beat regime should not dupe the West into thinking that there are fresh prospects for a nuclear deal.
Iran has a new president in cleric Hassan Rowhani. But this cosmetic facelift for a dead beat regime should not dupe the West into thinking that there are fresh prospects for a nuclear deal. This change was the result of downward pressure from the Iranian people and the Iranian people should be supported to provoke greater changes toward democracy.
Rowhani has been touted in some circles as a “moderate,” and a “pragmatist” capable of softening Tehran’s stance on major issues of concern for Western capitals. Yet this narrative easily omits the fact that it is the Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, and not the president, who makes all final decisions on such matters.
For his part, Khamenei has shown no signs of moderation. In fact, the opposite is true, with his representatives going to great lengths on a daily basis to diffuse any notions about future policy shifts.
Rowhani himself has been a loyal Khamenei confidant for decades, serving as his personal representative on the Supreme National Security Council. He has gone on record saying that he duped and deceived the West as Tehran’s chief nuclear negotiator between 2003 to 2005, by keeping western countries preoccupied with pointless talks while secretly completing the nuclear program. Now that is his mandate as president.
So, once bitten, the U.S. and Europe should now be twice shy about trusting him.
Instead, they should reflect on what led to Rowhani’s selection. The answer lies in Khamenei’s deep trepidation about a repeat of the 2009 uprisings which permanently damaged his authority and fuelled internal opposition to his rule.
To be sure, sanctions did have a major impact on weakening the regime, but they were not as important in Khamenei’s calculus as popular uprisings. For Khamenei, social unrest was a red line and he acquiesced to Rowhani’s presidency in order to prevent it.
That is why the West should support the Iranian people and major opposition forces as the only way to further weaken and soften the Iranian regime.
For western policy on Iran to have any kind of force now, supporting the Iranian people and their organized resistance has to be a major part of the strategy. This was the factor that has weakened the regime and can continue to promise greater change if it is backed by the international community.