By Jon Jen
For years, Washington’s diplomatic relationship with Iran has been scarred by hostility revolving around everything from nuclear controversy to verbal threats. However, when Hassan Rouhani was decisively elected president this past August, his promises of moderation and cooperation gave hope for the progression of Iran’s dealings with the western world. After being sworn in as Iran’s seventh president, Rouhani announced that, “This victory is the victory of wisdom, moderation and awareness over fanaticism and bad behavior.” When September came around, the newly-elected president decided to visit the United Nations in New York, where he claimed that his nation and its nuclear program posed absolutely no threat to the world. But just how much should we trust the erudite research professor and author who now leads a nation previously deemed an “Axis of Evil” by former President Bush? The answer seems ambiguous at the moment to say the least, as a formal meeting between Rouhani and the US President has yet to be established. Although President Obama has requested a face-to-face meeting, the proposal was apparently rejected by Rouhani. However, the two have had a phone conversation, a seemingly innocuous act that was enough to spark protests and “death to America” chants in Iran. Given the lack of knowledge due to this scenario, there is not much our government can assess regarding Iran’s supposed policy shift, which means that America’s suspicion has a reason to exist.
Hassan Rouhani was born in 1948 to a merchant family, and his father was arrested several times throughout his childhood for rebelling against the unpopular, US-supported Shah. He studied religion, law, and science both in his home country and in Scotland, and soon launched his political career by delivering speeches criticizing the Shah, while supporting Ayatollah Khomeini. Being one of the original revolutionaries, he was exiled for a period of time before reuniting with Khomenei after the 1979 revolution, when he finally received a government position. Rouhani shuffled between several high leveled positions in the army, Defense Council, and Security Council for numerous years, and has had experience in the past negotiating nuclear treaties with the west. After a period of political inactivity during the term of Ahmadinejad, whom he disliked, the “diplomat sheikh” came back into the picture with his presidential campaign. Now the second-most powerful man in Iran besides Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, Rouhani has the ability to alter the long-standing political enmity between his nation and the world. Whether he plans on actually doing so remains a mystery, as his current openness may very well be a façade.
Rouhani has laid out a plan for his presidency, starting off with a policy aimed at raising funds, promoting business, reducing the income gap, and curbing inflation, in hopes of repairing the economy and building a road for long term development. His political views are still in line with the general government opinion of foreign policy, despite his well-known pragmatism and approachability. He vehemently opposes and criticizes Israel, still has trouble with human rights, and will probably continue to support the Assad regime in the Syrian Civil War. Although Rouhani recently released several journalists previously jailed for political reasons, Irani Nobel Peace Prize laureate Shirin Ebadi has claimed that they had already served their time. Ebadi, who is currently in self-exile, also claimed that the government of Iran had executed over 40 people in the last 10 days, including hanging 16 “rebels”. She expressed support for the end of harmful sanctions against the Irani people, and instead supports a blockage against satellites that broadcast propaganda. According to the Associated Press, Ebadi stated that, “We get bad signals…(and) I have doubts…I think it’s too early to be optimistic”. Alireza Miryousefi, spokesman for Iran’s U.N. mission, responded saying, “At a time when the world appreciates the new Iranian government’s approach following recent elections in Iran, such biased allegations against Iran and its new government is an obvious evidence of the isolation of those who are against Iran’s success.” Rouhani’s intentions are still shrouded in a misty cloud of uncertainty, but in the months to come, we shall see just what kind of legacy he wishes to leave behind while the world awaits in anticipation.