LONDON— Analysts are tamping down hopes of major changes in Iran, after the surprise election of relatively moderate candidate Hassan Rowhani as president.
Supporters of the new president-elect marched through the streets of Tehran to celebrate. Rowhani’s election on the first ballot, with more than 50 percent of the vote, surprised many experts.
On Monday, Rowhani told a news conference the “old wound” with the United States can be healed if Iran’s right to enrich uranium is recognized. He called for “constructive interaction” with the West “through moderation” designed to ease sanctions.
He said he is ready for more transparency in the nuclear program to show that it operates within what he called “international frameworks.”
For many, that would be a welcome change from his predecessor, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, whose policies and rhetoric antagonized many in Iran and around the world.
Rowhani received the usual congratulatory messages from world leaders.
Israeli President Shimon Peres expressed hope that what he called the “hidden strength” of the Iranian people would moderate the country’s policies.
But Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu took a tougher line. “The more pressure exerted on Iran, the greater the chances to bring an end to Iran's nuclear weapons program. One way or another it will be stopped."
Israel has threatened military action if negotiations do not end Iran’s alleged effort to develop a nuclear weapon, which Iran denies.
The country’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, keeps tight control on nuclear policy, so analysts do not expect much change.
President-elect Rowhani was Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator 10 years ago, though, and he did convince his country’s leaders to briefly moderate their policies. That leads Iran expert Mark Fitzpatrick to have at least a little hope for his tenure as president.
“It doesn’t affect the fundamental backing for the nuclear program. I don’t see any change in that, but [maybe] some tactical compromises and willingness to make agreements, make a deal. I mean, we’re not going to get a solution unless there’s willingness to make a deal,” said Fitzpatrick.
And that could be what was on the minds of Rowhani’s jubilant supporters as they sang a pre-Islamic Republic patriotic song to celebrate his victory. Some told reporters they want “change” and “reform” and policies that don’t “trigger tensions” and lead to more economic sanctions.