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.
Reuters
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.

“Sedition”

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

Video Iran Nuclear Deal Becomes US Campaign Issue

Voters in three crucial battleground states - Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania - overwhelmingly oppose nuclear deal with Iran More

With IS in Coalition Cross-Hairs, al-Qaida's Syria Affiliate Reemerges

Jabhat al-Nusra has rebounded, increasingly casting itself as a critical player in battle for Syria’s future More

Lessons Learned From Katrina, 10 Years Later

FEMA chief Craig Fugate says key changes include better preparation, improved coordination among state, federal assistance agencies More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
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.
Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalatesi
X
August 27, 2015 2:08 AM
Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Is China's Economic Data Accurate?

Some investors say China's wild stock market gyrations have been made worse by worries about the reliability of that nation's economic data. And some critics say the reports can mislead investors by painting an unrealistically-strong picture of the economy. A key China scholar says Beijing is not fudging ((manipulating)) the numbers, but that the economy is evolving quickly from smoke-stack industries to services, and the ways of tracking new economic activity are falling behind the change. V
Video

Video Next to Iran, Climate at Forefront of Obama Agenda

President Barack Obama this week announced new initiatives aimed at making it easier for Americans to access renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. Obama is not slowing down when it comes to pushing through climate change measures, an issue he says is the greatest threat to the country’s national security. VOA correspondent Aru Pande has more from the White House.
Video

Video Shipping Containers Provide Experimental Housing

Housing prices around the San Francisco Bay area are out of reach for many people, so some young entrepreneurs, artists and tech industry workers are creating their own houses using converted shipping containers. But as VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports from Oakland, the effort requires ingenuity and dealing with restrictive local laws.
Video

Video Arctic Draws International Competition for Oil

A new geopolitical “Great Game” is underway in earth’s northernmost region, the Arctic, where Russia has claimed a large area for resource development and President Barack Obama recently approved Shell Oil Company’s test-drilling project in an area under U.S. control. Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Philippine Maritime Police: Chinese Fishermen a Threat to Country’s Security

China and the Philippines both claim maritime rights in the South China Sea.  That includes the right to fish in those waters. Jason Strother reports on how the Philippines is catching Chinese nationals it says are illegal poachers. He has the story from Palawan province.
Video

Video Technique May Eliminate Drill-and-Fill Dental Care

Many people dread visiting dentists because they're afraid of drills. Now, however, a technology developed by a British firm promises to eliminate the need for mechanical cleaning of dental cavities by speeding a natural process of tooth repair. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video China's Spratly Island Building Said to Light Up the Night 'Like A City'

Southeast Asian countries claim China has illegally seized territory in the Spratly islands. It is especially a concern for a Philippine mayor who says Beijing is occupying parts of his municipality. Jason Strother reports from the capital of Palawan province, Puerto Princesa.
Video

Video Ages-old Ice Reveals Secrets of Climate Change

Ice caps don't just exist at the world's poles. There are also tropical ice caps, and the largest sits atop the Peruvian Andes - but it is melting, quickly, and may be gone within the next 20 years. George Putic reports scientists are now rushing to take samples to get at the valuable information about climate change locked in the ice.
Video

Video French Experiment in Integrating Roma Under Threat

Plans to destroy France’s oldest slum have sparked an outcry on the part of its Roma residents. As Lisa Bryant reports from the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, rights groups argue the community is a fledgling experiment on integrating Roma who are often outcasts in many parts of Europe.
Video

Video Kenyans Turn to Agriculture for Business

Each year Kenyan universities continue to churn out graduates for the job market despite the already existing high rate of unemployment among youth in the country. Some of these young men and women have realized that agriculture can be as rewarding as any other business or job, and they are resorting to agribusiness in large numbers as a way of tackling unemployment. Rael Ombuor reports for VOA.
Video

Video First Women Graduate Elite Army Ranger School

Two women are making history for the U.S. Army by proving they are among the toughest of the tough. VOA's Carla Babb reports from Fort Benning, Georgia as 94 men and those two women rise as graduates of the difficult Ranger school.

VOA Blogs