Publishe Date: 4:37 PM - 6/24/2013 | Print

A Window of Opportunity

Politics - Seyyed Mohammad Sadegh Kharrazi

Last Friday, the Iranian people went to the polls and elected the eleventh president of the Islamic Republic. Economic problems including inflation and unemployment topped the agenda of all the candidates. However, Iran’s rocky relations with many countries as well as the sanctions imposed on the Iranian economy have also been considered by many Iranians as important problems facing the country. Although the election fervor this year was less upbeat compared to four years ago, the debates among the contenders were lively and at times heated, leading to harsh exchanges between them.

Out of the six candidates running for the high office, Dr. Hassan Rohani, the former nuclear negotiator, was the only candidate with a non-conservative agenda. While ranking fourth or fifth in the opinion polls just a few weeks prior to the election, Dr. Rohani ultimately received more than 50 percent of the votes.

The president-elect has been known in Iran as a man of moderation. His campaign platform was based on wisdom and moderation as he dubbed his government as “the government of prudence and hope”. Fed up with eight years of combative policies at home and abroad, the people of Iran chose Rohani to follow less radical policies inside the country and less bellicose and more moderate policies outside.

The reaction to Rohani’s election was more or less welcoming. At the G8 Summit in Northern Ireland, President Obama told reporters during a meeting with President Putin of Russia, “In Iran, we both expressed cautious optimism that with a new election there, we may be able to move forward on a dialogue that allows us to resolve the problems with Iran’s nuclear program.” The US Secretary of State’s tone was also promising when he said, “We admire the courage of the Iranian people who went to the polls and made their voices heard… The Iranian people have clearly expressed their desire for a new and better future.”

In Europe, the mood was also optimistic. The French Foreign Minister said, “The international community has high expectations from Iran, especially about its nuclear program and its involvement in Syria. We are ready to work on this with the new Iranian president.” The European Union’s foreign policy Chief Catherine Ashton was also positive on Rohani’s election. “I remain firmly committed to working with the new Iranian leadership towards a swift diplomatic solution of the nuclear issue,” she said. The reactions from neighboring countries and countries in the region were also encouraging. And as expected, Israel’s reaction was negative as if Israelis were the ones who were seriously disappointed on the election of a moderate president. The Israeli Prime Minister said that the election would not have the power to change “Iran’s nuclear ambitions.” He accused Iran of using time to continue its nuclear program and called for continuation of sanctions.

After the election, Dr. Rohani continued with his moderate tone. During his first press conference as president-elect, Rohani promised to rejuvenate the nuclear talks with the P5+1 countries. He said that the nuclear issue could be solved only through negotiations; therefore neither threats nor sanctions would be effective. On Iran-US talks, he said, “The issue between Iran and the US is very complex as there is an old scar in the relations which should be treated with prudence.” He went on to say that the two nations and the two countries should look to the future and any talk between them should be based on mutual respect and on equal footing.

Following the recent Iranian election, there is a window of opportunity for both Iran and the West to resolve the outstanding issues. Certainly there are voices on both sides that oppose any rapprochement. On one side there is a strong Israeli lobby as well as neo-conservatives and hardliners in the US and Europe which call for more sanctions and possible military action against Iran. On the other side, there are people inside Iran who advocate more resistance against the West in the hope that it will finally give in to Iran’s demands.

Past experiences have taught us that the policy of threats and sanctions cannot produce the desired results. It is better for all to open a new chapter in Iran-West relations. The Iranian president-elect will be in office in less than two months. He has already expressed his willingness to work towards reduction of tensions with other countries and the resolution of the nuclear issue. The West, particularly the US, will not lose anything if they take a new approach towards the new government in Iran. Some Western analysts have suggested to Obama to send a congratulatory message to Rohani. It does not seem that Obama will heed to this suggestion. However, the important thing is that from now till Rohani’s inauguration day, if Obama is prepared to take a new step, even a symbolic one, towards Iran showing that the US is eager to work with the new Iran, it will seem to be reciprocated. This opportunity should not be lost.

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