Analysis: The good and the bad of Rohani’s election

Will Iran's president-elect prove to be a partner in advancing nuclear negotiations?; expert worries more moderate presentation will deter West from "effective response" to Teheran's foreign policies.

Hassan Rohani 370 (photo credit: REUTERS/Arnd Wiegmann AKW/JOH)
Hassan Rohani 370
(photo credit: REUTERS/Arnd Wiegmann AKW/JOH)
The election of cleric Hassan Rohani as president of Iran could damage Israel’s national interest, according to some analysts.
They argue that his promises to improve relations with the West and calm tensions at home will ease international pressure over Tehran’s nuclear program. Rohani’s description by some as a moderate has many in the West believing that negotiations may now bear fruit and as a result, sanctions could be lessened.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu revealed as much on Sunday when he said that nothing significant has changed regarding Iran, as the same regime is still in power, ruled by supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
Analysts who support this view argue that at least Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad spoke honestly and directly while Rohani will dissimulate and hide the regime’s true intentions – taking the international community for a ride as negotiations will continue until Iran has the bomb.
Daniel Pipes, the president of the Middle East Forum, wrote on his blog,, in an article titled, “Rooting for Jalili,” that the same logic holds for supporting the hardliner Saeed Jalili this time around, just as he wrote four years ago that he was rooting for Ahmadinejad. Pipes wrote that it “is better to have a bellicose, apocalyptic, in-your-face Ahmadinejad who scares the world than a sweet-talking Mousavi who again lulls it to sleep, even as thousands of centrifuges whir away.”
And in these elections, he said, the same is true regarding Hassan Rohani, who will be able to remove international pressure in the same way.
The process may already be under way, as he quoted US Secretary of State John Kerry as saying, “We, along with our international partners, remain ready to engage directly with the Iranian government. We hope they will honor their international obligations to the rest of the world in order to reach a diplomatic solution that will fully address the international community’s concerns about Iran’s nuclear program.”
The international reaction seems to echo this sentiment.
The Washington Post ran an article titled “Iran’s next president, Hassan Rohani, seen as best hope for ending nuclear standoff with West.” The France 24 news website quoted various world leaders expressing their sense that negotiations would now have a chance. French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said he is “ready to work” with Rohani while a spokesperson for the UK Foreign Office hoped the new leader would “use the opportunity to set Iran on a different course.”
Trita Parsi, the president of the National Iranian American Council and the author of A Single Roll of the Dice - Obama’s Diplomacy with Iran, differed with analysts such as Pipes who see the election results negatively.
Parsi told The Jerusalem Post, “The election result is certainly not meaningless. It is understandable that those who fear peace more than they fear war are worried now,” he said going on to add, “For those forces, whether they are in Iran, Israel or the United States, they need a hard-liner in power in Iran in order to justify their own confrontational policies geared toward driving everything toward war.”
“Having Iran move in a constructive direction is their worst nightmare,” he said.
Pipes responded to Parsi by saying, “As I wrote in response to Rohani’s election, ‘I am pleased for Iranians but distressed for the outside world.’ I hope that Rohani might have a positive impact on such domestic matters as economics, the status of women and artistic freedom.”
“I am worried, however, that his less dour presentation of the same foreign policies – his government’s support for terrorism, its all-out backing of the Assad regime and the nuclear build-up – will mean an even less effective response by Western states,” stated Pipes.
“I wish very much that Iran would ‘move in a constructive direction.’ That, however, means not putting lipstick on Khamenei’s pig but ousting him and his wretched regime,” he said.
Ray Takeyh, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and a former senior advisor on Iran at the US State Department told the Post that in his view, Rohani is committed to the country’s nuclear program, “but he also sees the importance of Iran’s economy and the need for more serious negotiations.”
“However, this is no longer 2003 [the last time he dealt with this issue]. He is taking over the presidency at a time when the program is more mature and sophisticated,” said Takeyh.
Thus, he added, there are now important constituents behind the program, which will make it more difficult for him to find a compromise.
“As such, it is impossible for him to deal with some of the hard edges of the program: greater cooperation with the IAEA and perhaps curtailing production of 20 percent fuel. But beyond that, it will be tough going.”