Iran’s president-elect is not so ‘moderate,’ expert says

Ariel Cohen Contributor
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Iran’s “moderate” president-elect may not be as reform-minded as he has been portrayed in recent news reports, a longtime Middle East observer says.

Hasan Rowhani, who was elected to replace Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as president of Iran last week, has ties to radical politicians and ambitions to continue Iran’s nuclear program.

Among the six candidates, Rowhani won the vote by nearly fifty-one percent. Media outlets have hailed him as the most moderate of the candidates.

Rowhani has said that he hopes to reduce conflict between Iran and the West, calling the tensions between the two “an old wound that must be treated” before normal relations can occur. He has called for a “strategic dialogue” between the United States and Iran.

Rowhani has made clear that he hopes to improve relations with the West, but that he also is not willing to sacrifice Iran’s nuclear enrichment program in the process.

“First, America must not interfere in Iran domestic affairs based on the Algiers Accord. They have to recognize our nuclear rights, put away bullying policies against Iran,” Rowhani said at a recent news conference, according to the Post. “And if such, and they have good intent, then the situation will change.”

But, some believe that if Rowhani is placating to the West in order to move Iran away from its current state of Western isolation.

In order for President Obama to lift the crippling economic restrictions on Iran, Iran must suspend its nuclear program.

“I do believe he will try to uphold diplomacy in order to try to soften the western pressure and try to move Iran from Western isolation,” senior research associate at the American Enterprise Institute Ahmad K. Majidyar said. “I don’t think the Obama administration or the European Union would be willing to lift sanctions, or even water down sanctions, unless they change the nuclear program. I’m not very hopeful for any sort of change between the west and Iran.”

While running for president, Rowhani was endorsed by former Iranian President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, a politician who once called for the destruction of Israel by nuclear weapons. Additionally, Rowhani has worked very closely with the radical former president, serving as Rafsanjani’s national security adviser from 1989 to 1997.

“There is no difference in the policy of the so-called ‘moderates’ like Rowhani and Rafsanjani and the hard-liners like Ahmadinejad and Ayatollah,” Majidyar said. “The hard-liners don’t want to give any conditions to the West about the nuclear program. Some don’t want to have any negotiations or talks and want to use negotiation as a ploy in order to advance or complete the nuclear program.”

Between 2003-2005, Rowhani made remarks that he wanted to engage the West only to buy time to advance the attack and prevent a nuclear program. Most recently, Rowhani spoke out against the threat of the West.

“The principal issue for us is to change the threat into an opportunity,” Rowhani said in a recent interview with the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting. “Our policy … was to defend against threats; to foil America’s plot. Wherever America’s plots are defeated, it’s very pleasant and likable. Our nation rejoices it.”

While Rowhani may support the nuclear program, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei will remain in charge of foreign policy and the nuclear program for now. But Rowhani is not powerless, and can guide Iran’s internal dialogue and decision-making.

“There is a unity amongst all Iranian leaders that the nuclear program should not be suspended that it should go ahead,” Majidyar said.