Wooing Rouhani 101

Spearhead Analysis – 20.06.2013

By Zoon Ahmad Khan
Research Analysts, Spearhead Research – Pakistan

rouhaniAs newly elected President of the Pariah-state, Rouhani faces a multitude of challenges. Iran has been for years under the global watch, threatening the foundation of world peace, pursuing a nuclear program that has revived the memory of a certain mushroom cloud, and disrespecting the Jewish brethren whose hospitality the World is humbled by. It wasn’t solely Iran’s nuclear aspirations that pushed her into the corner of shame. The Green Movement after Ahmedinejad’s re-election in 2009, the stringent Islamic posture of the Khameini regime, and of course the anti-West mindset of the former President have all led to a plethora of sanctions Iran’s way. In a world of economic gain, economic sanctions seemed to have closed Iran’s options. Even old allies like India and China have taken a shift towards the Western alternative in Asia- Afghanistan.

Rouhani, a former nuclear negotiator for the regime, is a well known figure in the West. It was during his tenure as chief negotiator (2003-2005) that Western and Iranian officials came closest to a concession. The man encompasses conservative and reformist tendencies. Unlike Ahmedinejad he does not question the power structure of the State, but his approach towards pursuing national aspirations is less extreme than that of his predecessor. This combination of respecting the status quo at home, and the global expectations, create an opposing picture; but also a more promising one. Better postured to negotiate with the Western powers and power centers at home, Rouhani may have what Iran needs to receive global acceptability without compromising national interest.

The blame for escalating tensions between Iran and the West does not entirely lie on the Ahmedinejad regime. Skewed policies and double standards on part of the World powers had pushed Iran into a tough spot. The anti Iran rhetoric and war threats made by Netanyahu have only created false hype over a non-issue as far as evidence goes. So far the IAEA has not revealed any evidence that justifies tall claims by Israel and Republican hopeful over the past two years. Transparency was demanded and transparency was provided. The media in case of the West has played a negative role in playing up the issue and the sweeping threatening statements made by Western powers only pushed Iran into a defensive spot.

The West needs to realize that the Islamic Republic is an enduring political entity, representing legitimate national interests. Virtually since the Islamic Republic’s conception out of the Iranian Revolution, American elite have declared it is an illicit order, dysfunctional and loathed by its own population, perpetually on the verge of overthrow. However the reality couldn’t be farther from this perception. The idea of integrating Islamic principles with participatory politics is popular throughout the Middle East in general, and so far Iran has been successful in achieving this arrangement. Even the Iranians who want the republic to evolve significantly would still at the end of the day want an Islamic Republic of Iran, not any other way.

Washington needs to stop looking for “moderates” to bring ‘reform’ to the Republic, who are considered moderate only because American officials believe they might be willing to give up on national interests for better economic ties with the West. Iran is a proud nation, intolerant towards any threats to its sovereignty. The Clinton administration tried operating around Khamenei and dealing only with then reformist President Mohammad Khatami during his first term. A decade later, the Obama administration tried working around President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and dealing directly with Mr. Khamenei. Every time, the tactic fails — and will fall short again if Obama replicate it on a newly inaugurated President. Changing attitudes and giving up on the need to ‘reform’ and ‘liberalize’ Iran is the first step to any successful negotiations.