News / Middle East

Hopes Ride on Iran's Rouhani, but Huge Task Ahead

Hassan Rouhani, June 17, 2013 file photo.
Hassan Rouhani, June 17, 2013 file photo.
A wave of optimism has swept Iran since Hassan Rouhani was elected president last month, but as he takes office on Sunday the moderate cleric has a monumental task to resolve the nuclear dispute, ease stringent sanctions and revive a failing economy.

If that were not enough, he has to do this while trying to satisfy the demands of his reformist allies while outflanking the conservatives he defeated, but who still dominate parliament and are deeply embedded within the state.

​ But no matter what progress, if any, Rouhani makes towards resolving Iran's myriad problems, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's eight years in office are at an end, to the relief of his critics at home and abroad.

Ahmadinejad's abrasive rhetoric and unwillingness to compromise precluded any nuclear deal with the West while ever tightening sanctions, domestic mismanagement and misguided state handouts sent inflation soaring over 40 percent, increasing the suffering of many ordinary Iranians.

“Before the election, everyone was saying anyone, anyone at all, has to be better than Ahmadinejad,” said one Tehran resident. “Now people hope Rouhani might be able to change things, at least a bit.”

Similar optimism has greeted Rouhani abroad where he has pledged to pursue a less confrontational approach to Iran's talks with six world powers over a nuclear program the West suspects is a veiled attempt to achieve a nuclear weapons capability. Iran says its efforts are entirely peaceful.

“The historic election of Hassan Rouhani last month in Iran was widely seen as a rejection of radicalism and an embrace of moderation. Hopes have risen that a negotiated solution to the nuclear stand-off may now be within reach,” said Trita Parsi, president of the National Iranian American Council.

Rouhani is however very much an Islamic Republic insider with 16 years as head of the Supreme National Security Council and the last eight years as one of two personal representatives of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on the same body. Even so, Rouhani has still been making all the right noises.

“Of course our nuclear plans are fully transparent, but we are ready to show more transparency,” said Rouhani, setting out his stall at his first post-election news conference. “Second, we will increase mutual trust between Iran and other countries.”

“Mutual trust and transparency within the framework of international regulations and principles are the solution to end sanctions,” he said. “We will first have to prevent new sanctions being applied, then reduce them and later, God willing, to completely remove them.”

Such words however failed to move the U.S. House of Representatives which easily passed a bill on Wednesday to tighten sanctions on Iran, further cutting its oil exports despite warnings from White House officials who said they wanted to give Rouhani a chance.

Rouhani may take some comfort from the reaction of one of the six powers, Russia, which said the U.S. move would not resolve the dispute over Iran's nuclear program.

Economy in turmoil

Rouhani has also made conciliatory noises about Syria where Iran has provided military training and credit to help President Bashar al-Assad in his more than two-year battle to defeat insurgents supported by Gulf Arab and some Western states.

Praising the Syrian government for standing up to what he called “Israeli expansionist policies and practices”, Rouhani has offered to mediate between the Assad “and those in the opposition who strive for democracy and good governance”.

The president however has little control over the activities abroad of the Revolutionary Guards who report directly to the leader and have their own independent sources of funds.

Though Khamenei, the top man in Iran's complex power structure, calls all the shots when it comes to nuclear and security issues, the president is given a relatively free hand to run the economy, and that is the big issue for Iranians.

Of course, much depends on Rouhani's ability to gain some wiggle room from swingeing United Nations, U.S. and European Union sanctions that have helped fuel inflation and halved the value of the rial in the last 18 months.

U.S. and EU sanctions are increasingly targeting Iran's oil and gas industry, the life-blood of an economy which generations of Iranian leaders have largely failed to properly diversify.

Ahmadinejad's solution was to wean the country off costly subsidies, a plan applauded by the International Monetary Fund. But poor execution resulted in the government printing money to spend on monthly payments to each Iranian household.

“Since Ahmadinejad took office in 2005, the amount of rials in circulation has increased by a factor of seven. This astronomical growth in liquidity has been a key driver of inflation,” said Mohammad Ali Shabani, a UK-based independent Iran analyst.

“This vast stream of liquidity is in constant search of interest higher than inflation, and as such has moved from hard currency, to gold, to property, creating bubbles,” he said.

Though the government cash handouts are now much devalued, cutting them altogether, as well as implementing traditional means of battling inflation, could prove extremely unpopular and with revenues from oil and gas squeezed, Rouhani's room for maneuver could prove to be limited.

That could build up opposition at home with moderate Rouhani squeezed between hardline conservatives and reformists whose last minute endorsement helped him clinch his surprise win.


As ever, the key will be the stance of the leader. Rouhani and Khamenei go back some 40 years to the intrigues that helped topple the U.S.-backed shah in 1979. But the leader still openly criticized Rouhani when, as Iran's chief nuclear negotiator, he agreed to suspend Iran's uranium enrichment in 2004.

Khamenei has turned against allies in the past. He strongly backed Ahmadinejad in the face of huge protests in which dozens were killed following the 2009 election, then later shunned the president when he appeared to challenge the leader's authority.

Though temporarily down, hardliners are by no means out. Rouhani's first domestic test could be how he handles calls from reformists for the release from house arrest of Mirhossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karoubi, the candidates defeated in 2009.

“I don't think it will be difficult to bring about a condition in the next year where not only those under house arrest, but also those detained after the 2009 elections will be released,” Rouhani told students during his campaign in May.

But hardly a day now passes without a hardline member of parliament railing against the 2009 “sedition” and the dire consequences that would befall Iran if its leaders were freed.

Shaul Bakhash, professor at George Mason University in Virginia, said Rouhani was inheriting daunting challenges: A deteriorating economy, a disorganized government administration, a worsened human rights situation, and strengthened hardline and conservative political organizations.

“He has his work cut out for him.”

You May Like

Afghanistan, Pakistan Leaders to Hold Icebreaking Talks in Paris

Two sides are expected to discuss ways to ease bilateral tensions and jointly work for resumption of stalled peace talks between Afghan government and Taliban officials

Corruption Busting Is Her Game

South African activist is building 'international online community of thousands of corruption fighters'

Former SAF Businessman Gives Books, Love of Reading to Students

Steve Tsakaris now involved in nonprofit Read to Rise, which distributes books in Soweto, encourages lower-grade primary school students to read

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
by: Godwin from: Nigeria
August 01, 2013 1:41 PM
Rowhani is by no means a moderate. Look at his past records with Khamenei and his claim that Iran's nuclear program has been transparent. Look at his comment about Israel and spot the similarities with Ahmadinejad's and you will find out that he's not going there to make peace, instead to continue the errand boy's duty from where Ahmadinejad stopped. Rowhani sees nothing wrong with Iran's support of Syria that kills hundreds. Calling him moderate with Khamenei ready to instigate him against the West while he is already stirred wrongly against Israel is waiting for the bomb to go off. It's going to be another regime of power drunkenness and diplomatic megalomania.

by: JohnWV from: USA
August 01, 2013 9:58 AM
NO MORE WARS! The Jewish state has ICBM nukes and openly threatens Iran, actually campaigns for war against Iran. Israel, not Iran, is the warmonger. Resolution lies with lifting all sanctions and compensating Iran for damages from the $$$ billions we will no longer be giving the Jewish state. An Iran with nukes just might inhibit the Jewish state's brutish pursuit of invulnerability, territorial conquest and racist. Mutually assured destruction could actually make Mideast peace possible. NO MORE WARS!
In Response

by: Godwin from: Nigeria
August 01, 2013 1:51 PM
With people like JohnWV from: USA, there will always be war. Preaching no war from some perspective and insinuating/instigating it on the round trip. What's the business of Rowhani's moderate standing and $$$billion given to the Jewish state? Are you sure you even pay your tax correctly? The money spent is not yours, what's your business how and where it's spent? There will always be war with people like you full of hatred for God's own people.
In Response

by: Smith
August 01, 2013 11:50 AM
With Rohani in power in Iran, I hope no more war in the Mideast.

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Belgium-Germany Border Remains Porous, Even As Manhunt For Paris Attacker Continuesi
Ayesha Tanzeem
November 25, 2015 10:46 PM
One of the suspected gunmen in the Nov. 13 Paris attacks, Salah Abdeslam, evaded law enforcement, made his way to Belgium, and is now believed to have fled to Germany. VOA correspondent Ayesha Tanzeem makes the journey across the border from Belgium into Germany to see how porous the borders really are.

Video Belgium-Germany Border Remains Porous, Even As Manhunt For Paris Attacker Continues

One of the suspected gunmen in the Nov. 13 Paris attacks, Salah Abdeslam, evaded law enforcement, made his way to Belgium, and is now believed to have fled to Germany. VOA correspondent Ayesha Tanzeem makes the journey across the border from Belgium into Germany to see how porous the borders really are.

Video Islamic State Unfazed by Losses in Iraq, Syria

Progress in the U.S.-led effort to beat Islamic State on its home turf in Iraq and Syria has led some to speculate the terror group may be growing desperate. But counterterror officials say that is not the case, and warn the recent spate of terror attacks is merely part of the group’s evolution. VOA National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more.

Video Taiwan Looks for Role in South China Sea Dispute

The Taiwanese government is one of several that claims territory in the hotly contested South China Sea, but Taipei has long been sidelined in the dispute, overshadowed by China. Now, as the Philippines challenges Beijing’s claims in an international court at The Hague, Taipei is looking to publicly assert its claims. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.

Video Syrian Refugees in US Express Concern for Those Left Behind

Syrian immigrants in the United States are concerned about the negative tide of public opinion and the politicians who want to block a U.S. plan to accept 10,000 Syrian refugees. Zlatica Hoke reports many Americans are fighting to dispel suspicions linking refugees to terrorists.

Video After Paris Attacks, France Steps Up Fight Against IS

The November 13 Paris attacks have drawn increased attention to Syria, where many of the suspected perpetrators are said to have received training. French President Francois Hollande is working to build a broad international coalition to defeat Islamic State in Syria and in Iraq. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video US, Cambodian Navies Pair Up in Gulf of Thailand

The U.S. Navy has deployed one of its newest and most advanced ships to Cambodia to conduct joint training drills in the Gulf of Thailand. Riding hull-to-hull with Cambodian ships, the seamen of the USS Fort Worth are executing joint-training drills that will help build relations in Southeast Asia. David Boyle reports for VOA from Preah Sihanouk province.

Video Americans Sharpen Focus on Terrorism

Washington will be quieter than usual this week due to the Thanksgiving holiday, even as Americans across the nation register heightened concerns over possible terrorist threats. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports new polling data from ABC News and the Washington Post newspaper show an electorate increasingly focused on security issues after the deadly Islamic State attacks in Paris.

Video World Leaders Head to Paris for Climate Deal

Heads of state from nearly 80 countries are heading to Paris (November 30-December 11) to craft a global climate change agreement. The new accord will replace the Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change that expired in 2012.

Video Uncertain Future for Syrian Refugee Resettlement in Illinois

For the trickle of Syrian refugees finding new homes in the Midwest city of Chicago, the call to end resettlement in many U.S. states is adding another dimension to their long journey fleeing war. Organizations working to help them integrate say the backlash since the Paris attacks is both harming and helping their efforts to provide refugees sanctuary. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

Video Creating Physical Virtual Reality With Tiny Drones

As many computer gamers know, virtual reality is a three-dimensional picture, projected inside special googles. It can fool your brain into thinking the computer world is the real world. But If you try to touch it, it’s not there. Now Canadian researchers say it may be possible to create a physical virtual reality using tiny drones. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Video New American Indian Village Takes Visitors Back in Time

There is precious little opportunity to experience what life was like in the United States before its colonization by European settlers. Now, an American Indian village built in a park outside Washington is taking visitors back in time to experience the way of life of America's indigenous people. Carol Pearson narrates this report from VOA's June Soh.

Video Even With Hometown Liberated, Yazidi Refugees Fear Return

While the northern Iraqi town of Sinjar has been liberated from Islamic State forces, it's not clear whether Yazidi residents who fled the militants will now return home. VOA’s Mahmut Bozarslan talked with Yazidis, a religious and ethnic minority, at a Turkish refugee camp in Diyarbakır. Robert Raffaele narrates his report.

Video Nairobi Tailors Make Pope Francis’ Vestments

To ensure the pope is properly attired during his visit, the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops asked the Dolly Craft Sewing Project in the Nairobi slum of Kangemi to make the pope's vestments, the garments he will wear during the various ceremonies. Jill Craig reports.

Video Cross-Border Terrorism Puts Europe’s Passport-Free Travel in Doubt

The fallout from the Islamic State terror attacks in Paris has put the future of Europe’s passport-free travel area, known as the "Schengen Zone," in doubt. Several of the perpetrators were known to intelligence agencies, but were not intercepted. Henry Ridgwell reports from London European ministers are to hold an emergency meeting Friday in Brussels to look at ways of improving security.

Video El Niño Brings Unexpected Fish From Mexico to California

Fish in an unexpected spectrum of sizes, shapes and colors are moving north, through El Niño's warm currents from Mexican waters to the Pacific Ocean off California’s coast. El Nino is the periodic warming of the eastern and central Pacific Ocean. As Faiza Elmasry tells us, this phenomenon thrills scientists and gives anglers the chance of a once-in-a-lifetime big catch. Faith Lapidus narrates.

Video Terrorism in Many Forms Continues to Plague Africa

While the world's attention is on Paris in the wake of Friday night's deadly attacks, terrorism from various sides remains a looming threat in many African countries. Nigerian cities have been targeted this week by attacks many believe were staged by the violent Islamist group Boko Haram. In addition, residents in many regions are forced to flee their homes as they are terrorized by armed militias. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Study: Underage Marriage Rate Higher for Females in Pakistan

While attitudes about the societal role of females in Pakistan are evolving, research by child advocacy group Plan International suggests that underage marriage of girls remains a particularly big issue in the country. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports how such marriages leads to further social problems.

VOA Blogs