Hassan Rouhani, a Shiite cleric seen as a moderate reformer, won an outright majority in the Iranian presidential election on Friday. Diplomats and observers are hoping that Rouhani will be able to negotiate a resolution to the international dispute over Iran’s nuclear program:
“Rouhani is, as we say in Persian, more bazaari than resistance, meaning he’s more a dealmaker than a rigid ideologue,” said Karim Sadjadpour, an Iranian American and analyst for the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, a Washington think tank. “It’s true that Iran’s existing foreign policy principles are pretty entrenched, but he may be able to impact them, at a minimum tactically.” ¶ For Obama and his national security team, Rouhani represents “the best hope for detente with Iran,” he said.¶ Often referred to as the “diplomat sheik” in Iranian media, Rouhani led Iran’s nuclear negotiating efforts from 2003 to 2005, resigning the post after Ahmadinejad became president. ¶ Rouhani has since been a harsh critic of Ahmadinejad’s economic and foreign policy. ¶ Even before all the votes were counted, U.S. officials and Iran experts were seeing Rouhani’s strong showing as a positive development that could lead to a thaw in relations between Washington and Tehran. The moderate cleric has called publicly for ending Iran’s diplomatic isolation, telling a crowd at one campaign stop last week, “I’ll pursue a policy of reconciliation and peace.”
Enthusiasm for Rouhani was palpable before and after the election, with 72 percent of the electorate voting, and people celebrating in the streets when they learned Rouhani was winning (video here.)
In a speech, Rouhani called his victory one of “wisdom, moderation, progress, awareness, commitment, and religiosity over extremism and unethical behavior,” and said, “I will try to improve peace in the world by engagement.”
Max Fisher writes that change in Iranian policies, if it occurs, will take time:
Few expect a sudden reversal in Iran’s nuclear program or its stance toward the West. But, at least on the latter, the country’s political establishment has appeared to be in the midst of a debate on whether it might be time to engage the U.S. in broad discussions. The current foreign minister recently sent Khamenei a handwritten letter urging exactly that, and there have been reports since October hinting that Tehran and Washington may be cautiously considering a direct dialogue to resolve their many disputes. Rouhani, as president, could be another prominent voice arguing internally on behalf of dialogue and cooperation.
For more on Rouhani, see this recent profile:
Since announcing his run in early April, Rouhani has spoken more than any other candidate about what he would do for women and ethnic minorities if elected, including forming a ministry of women. ¶ Such pledges have won him growing support among liberal-minded Iranians, especially the young. Rouhani’s campaign rallies, which have attracted thousands of supporters in cities across Iran, have featured large contingents of tribal minorities and many first-time voters who see in him a connection to the reform movement of the late 1990s and early 2000s, before the extremism that took hold with the election of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in 2005. . . Some influential coalitions of clerics are supporting more conservative candidates, especially former foreign minister Ali Akbar Velayati, who is a close adviser to Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the nation’s supreme leader, and nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili. ¶ But Rafsanjani and Khatami are clerics themselves, and although Rouhani’s status as a cleric may diminish his credibility among some segments of Iranian society, his background and rhetoric are clearly more geared toward change compared with the other candidates.
Read a brief chronology of Rouhani’s career here.