Paul Pillar reflects on the significance of Hassan Rouhani’s victory in the Iranian presidential election:
Rouhani’s win brings to Iran’s presidency the candidate who was least associated with attributes of the Iranian regime that the West finds most offensive. While one must always be careful in affixing labels to individual leaders and factions in Iranian politics, the pre-election characterization of Rouhani as the most moderate of the six candidates remaining in the race until election day is accurate.
It remains to be seen how much influence Rouhani will have, or rather how much he will be allowed to have, but anyone interested in reducing tensions between the U.S. and Iran has to be encouraged by the broad popular support he received and the possibility that a negotiated agreement on the nuclear issue is slightly more likely than it has been. Though it seems unlikely to happen, this result is an opportunity to revisit and change the current cruel and useless sanctions policy, which is succeeding in harming and impoverishing the civilian population while seeming to have no real effect on regime behavior. At the very least, there is an opening here for more sustained engagement with Iran if there anyone in our government has the wisdom to see it and take advantage of it.
As Shashank Joshi argues, the U.S. and other Western governments need to be willing to take seriously any conciliatory gestures Rouhani tries to make:
The U.S. and Europe need to seize any opportunities that Rohani creates, putting meaningful sanctions relief on the table in exchange for concrete and verifiable reductions in Iran’s nuclear capability. If they instead meet any overtures with sullen distrust, Rohani’s political rivals will use the failure against him.
The difficulty here is that the U.S. has committed itself openly to fighting a proxy war against Iran’s allies, and the move to arm anti-regime forces is taking place in an atmosphere of increasing distrust of and hostility to Iran here in the U.S. Viewed against the backdrop of Rouhani’s victory, the decision to meddle even more in Syria looks even more destructive and short-sighted than it already did.