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

Koreas Mark 61st Anniversary of War Armistice

Muted observances on both sides of heavily-armed Demilitarized Zone that separates two decades-long enemies More

Judge Declares Washington DC Ban on Public Handguns Unconstitutional

Ruling overturns capital city's prohibition on carrying guns in pubic More

Pricey Hepatitis C Drug Draws Criticism

Activists are using the International AIDS Conference to criticize drug companies for charging high prices for life-saving therapies 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.
Students in Business for Themselvesi
X
Mike O'Sullivan
July 26, 2014 11:04 AM
They're only high school students, but they are making accessories for shoes, fabricating backpacks and doing product photography - all through their own businesses. It's the result of a partnership between a non-profit organization that teaches entrepreneurship and their schools. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan and Deyane Moses met the budding entrepreneurs near Los Angeles.
Video

Video Students in Business for Themselves

They're only high school students, but they are making accessories for shoes, fabricating backpacks and doing product photography - all through their own businesses. It's the result of a partnership between a non-profit organization that teaches entrepreneurship and their schools. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan and Deyane Moses met the budding entrepreneurs near Los Angeles.
Video

Video Astronauts Train in Underwater Lab

In the world’s only underwater laboratory, four U.S. astronauts train for a planned visit to an asteroid. The lab - called Aquarius- is located five kilometers off Key Largo, in southern Florida. Living in close quarters and making excursions only into the surrounding ocean, they try to simulate the daily routine of a crew that will someday travel to collect samples of a rock orbiting far away from earth. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Not Even Monks Spared From Thailand’s Junta-Backed Morality Push

With Thailand’s military government firmly in control after May’s bloodless coup, authorities are carrying out plans they say are aimed at restoring discipline, morality and patriotism to all Thais. The measures include a crackdown on illegal gambling, education reforms to promote students’ moral development, and a new 24-hour phone hotline for citizens to report misbehaving monks. Steve Sandford reports from Bangkok.
Video

Video Virtual Program Teaches Farming Skills

In a fast-changing world beset by unpredictable climate conditions, farmers cannot afford to ignore new technology. Researchers in Australia are developing an online virtual world program to share information about climate change and more sustainable farming techniques for sugar cane growers. As VOA's Zlatica Hoke reports, the idea is to create a wider support network for farmers.
Video

Video Airline Expert: Missile will Show Signature on Debris

The debris field from Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 is spread over a 21-kilometer radius in eastern Ukraine. It is expected to take investigators months to sort through the airplane pieces to learn about the missile that brought down the jetliner and who fired it. VOAs Carolyn Presutti explains how this work will be done.
Video

Video Treatment for Childhood Epilepsy Heats up Medical Marijuana Debate

In the United States, marijuana is classed as an illegal drug by the federal government. But nearly half the states have legalized it, to some degree. Proponents say some strains of marijuana might have exceptional health benefits, for treating pain or inflammation in chronic conditions such as cancer, multiple sclerosis and epilepsy. Shelley Schlender reports on a strain of medical marijuana developed in Colorado that is reputed to reduce seizures in childhood epilepsy
Video

Video Airbus Adds Metal 3D Printed Parts to New Jets

By the end of this year, European aircraft manufacturing consortium Airbus plans to deliver the first of its new, extra-wide-body passenger jets, the A350-XWB. Among other technological innovations, the new plane will also incorporate metal parts made in a 3-D printer. VOA's George Putic has more.
Video

Video AIDS Conference Welcomes Exciting Developments in HIV Treatment, Prevention

Significant strides have been made in recent years toward the treatment and prevention of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. This year, at the International AIDS Conference, the AIDS community welcomed progress on a new pill that may prevent transmission of the deadly virus. VOA’s Anita Powell reports from Melbourne, Australia.
Video

Video IAEA: Iran Turns its Enriched Uranium Into Less Harmful Form

Iran has converted its stockpiles of enriched uranium into a less dangerous form that is more difficult to use for nuclear weapons, according to the United Nations’ Atomic Energy Agency. The move complies with an interim deal reached with Western powers on Iran's nuclear program last year, in exchange for easing of sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.

AppleAndroid