What Does Rowhani’s Election As Iran’s President Mean for America?

Iran's former chief nuclear negotiator Hassan ...

Iranian President-elect Hassan Rowhani (Image credit: AFP/Getty Images via @daylife)

The election of Hassan Rowhani as the next Iranian president is a clear rebuke of the current regime. The final count shows Rowhani with a remarkable fifty-two percent of the vote, while Mohammad Ghalibaf, the popular conservative mayor of Tehran and Rowhani’s nearest rival, barely broke sixteen percent. Rowhani’s victory marks a thorough repudiation of Ahmadinejad’s confrontational policies and shows that the Iranian people are far more pragmatic and reasonable than their leaders.

Rowhani’s election is the first opportunity to contain Iran’s nuclear weapons program in years. The Obama administration must not let it slip away.

President Rowhani’s plate will be very full: he inherits an economy crippled by international sanctions, a proxy war in Syria and a fractious political elite that is increasingly unsure of the way forward. Rowhani promised, and was in large part elected to enact, a slate of domestic reforms that will take up much of his time and attention. Without constant and consistent American pressure nuclear negotiations could easily fall by the wayside.

As I argued on the day of the election, Rowhani’s importance for America lies not in his liberal-mindedness (he is both a cleric and a Khamenei insider), but in his reasonableness. During his tenure as chief nuclear negotiator he proved that he had the fortitude and clout to halt Iran’s enrichment program in order to secure negotiations. After Friday’s dramatic show of popular support, it is not unreasonable to think that he could accomplish the same today.

There are still many questions to be answered about Rowhani’s foreign policy. He has called for renewed dialogue with the West, but words alone will not bring Iran in from the cold.

Will Rowhani end Iran’s despicable support of Bashar al-Assad in Syria? Will Rowhani cease Iranian interference in the politics of Iraq? Will he stop Iran’s backing of terrorist organizations like Hezbollah and the Quds Force? If the answer to all these questions remains “no,” then Rowhani’s dialogue will count for little.

There are those in the international community who will call for easing sanctions in hopes of rewarding Iran for electing a moderate. But the sanctions are not against Ahmadinejad or Khamenei, they are against a set of policies that promoted the aggressive development of nuclear weapons by a country that may well be the world’s leading state sponsor of terror. Until these policies change, America must remain resolute in its enforcement of sanctions against Iran.

Rowhani’s victory was the best possible outcome for the Iranian people and for the world. That does not mean that Iran’s problems have been solved, but it does signify an opportunity to solve them.

Rowhani, a talented and experienced diplomat with the ear of Khamenei, has shown that he has the support of his people to carry out a program of domestic and foreign policy reform. Obama and his advisors must seize this opportunity and not slacken the pressure on Iran to end its illegal nuclear weapons program or its support of terrorist organizations worldwide. Otherwise, Rowhani may prove less confrontational than Ahmadinejad, but will be no less dangerous.

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