Rowhani’s win in Iran’s presidential election is met with cautious optimism

Tens of thousands of Iranians took to the streets over the weekend celebrating the victory in Friday’s presidential election of centrist candidate and cleric Hassan Rowhani. Rowhani took the election with just over 50 percent of the vote, so there is no need for runoff elections. Rowhani has vowed better relations abroad and greater domestic ...

Atta Kenare/AFP/Getty Images
Atta Kenare/AFP/Getty Images
Atta Kenare/AFP/Getty Images

Tens of thousands of Iranians took to the streets over the weekend celebrating the victory in Friday's presidential election of centrist candidate and cleric Hassan Rowhani. Rowhani took the election with just over 50 percent of the vote, so there is no need for runoff elections. Rowhani has vowed better relations abroad and greater domestic freedoms. However, his career has been spent at the center of Iran's conservative establishment and Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei must still approve his policies. As such, reformists and Western countries have met news of Rowhani's win with cautious optimism. The United States pledged to "engage Iran directly" in order to resolve concerns over Iran's nuclear program. Britain called on Rowhani to "set Iran on a different course for the future." Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu maintained, "Iran will be judged on its actions" and warned the international community to "not fall into wishful thinking and be tempted to ease pressure on Iran to stop its nuclear program." In his initial statement Rowhani said, "The nations who tout democracy and open dialogue should speak to the Iranian people with respect and recognize the rights of the Islamic Republic." One of Rowhani's most immediate concerns is the plunging economy. On Sunday, he reportedly met with head of the Iranian Parliament Ali Larijani to discuss economic issues and living conditions.

Syria

Western countries and Russia are expected to head off Monday in G8 talks in Northern Ireland, in which Syria is expected to top the agenda. Russia has criticized last week's announcement that the United States will begin arming Syrian opposition fighters. On Sunday, Russian President Vladimir Putin questioned who the United States would be supporting, calling the opposition cannibals. Additionally the Russian Foreign Ministry said it would not allow an imposed no-fly zone in Syria. U.S. President Barack Obama and Putin are scheduled to meet Monday evening. Obama will also meet with European leaders on the sidelines of the summit to discuss next steps on Syria. Meanwhile, a car bomb hit an army checkpoint near the Mazzeh military airport outside Damascus overnight killing at least 10 Syrian soldiers and injuring 10 others.

Tens of thousands of Iranians took to the streets over the weekend celebrating the victory in Friday’s presidential election of centrist candidate and cleric Hassan Rowhani. Rowhani took the election with just over 50 percent of the vote, so there is no need for runoff elections. Rowhani has vowed better relations abroad and greater domestic freedoms. However, his career has been spent at the center of Iran’s conservative establishment and Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei must still approve his policies. As such, reformists and Western countries have met news of Rowhani’s win with cautious optimism. The United States pledged to "engage Iran directly" in order to resolve concerns over Iran’s nuclear program. Britain called on Rowhani to "set Iran on a different course for the future." Israel‘s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu maintained, "Iran will be judged on its actions" and warned the international community to "not fall into wishful thinking and be tempted to ease pressure on Iran to stop its nuclear program." In his initial statement Rowhani said, "The nations who tout democracy and open dialogue should speak to the Iranian people with respect and recognize the rights of the Islamic Republic." One of Rowhani’s most immediate concerns is the plunging economy. On Sunday, he reportedly met with head of the Iranian Parliament Ali Larijani to discuss economic issues and living conditions.

Syria

Western countries and Russia are expected to head off Monday in G8 talks in Northern Ireland, in which Syria is expected to top the agenda. Russia has criticized last week’s announcement that the United States will begin arming Syrian opposition fighters. On Sunday, Russian President Vladimir Putin questioned who the United States would be supporting, calling the opposition cannibals. Additionally the Russian Foreign Ministry said it would not allow an imposed no-fly zone in Syria. U.S. President Barack Obama and Putin are scheduled to meet Monday evening. Obama will also meet with European leaders on the sidelines of the summit to discuss next steps on Syria. Meanwhile, a car bomb hit an army checkpoint near the Mazzeh military airport outside Damascus overnight killing at least 10 Syrian soldiers and injuring 10 others.

Headlines

  • Thousands of workers went on strike Monday in Turkey after a weekend of severe clashes between police and anti-government protesters in Istanbul and Ankara.
  • Three bombings across Iraq have killed 12 people Monday a day after a wave of attacks left at least 51 people dead. 

Arguments and Analysis

Bad Idea, Mr. President (Ramzy Mardini, The New York Times)

"The responsible role of a lone superpower is not to pick sides in a civil war; it’s to help enable conflict resolution while maintaining a policy of neutrality. Instead, the United States came down on one side of a regional sectarian conflict, inadvertently fomenting Sunni hubris and Shiite fear — the same effects (but in reverse) caused by America’s involvement in the Iraq war.

Unlike in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya, the revolution in Syria involves upending a sectarian political order, and therefore it disrupts the fragile sectarian balance within the region. Absent ‘boots on the ground,’ supplying rebels with arms or establishing a no-fly zone are half-measures that are unlikely to advance an endgame that serves American interests or alters Mr. Assad’s calculus to step aside — all the while, intensifying the lethality of the conflict without contributing toward a decisive end.

More important, by arming the rebels, Mr. Obama is not only placing the United States in an open proxy war with Russia and Iran, but also raising the stakes and consequently jeopardizing broader and more valuable American interests."

Iranian Foreign Policy After the Election (Farideh Farhi and Saideh Lotfian, Foreign Affairs)

"Put simply, although all Iranian policymakers believe Iran must pursue security and a greater role in regional and global affairs, they disagree about whether those goals are best achieved through integration or resistance. In the last few years, international pressure and threats had increasingly marginalized the defensive and the accommodationist perspectives, strengthening those in all three schools that would rather take a more aggressive posture towards the West. In nuclear negotiations, for example, officials have directly criticized the talks that reformist governments had previously launched with European nations. The gist is that such a policy of appeasement only increased Western demands on Iran, rather than the other way around.

But more and more in the past year, advocates of a confrontationist or offensive foreign policy have faced criticism as well. The argument against them holds that, although their approach did show that Iran is principled and steadfast in the face of external pressure, it isolated Iran, opened the country to a ferocious sanctions regime, and prevented it from achieving regional prominence as a technological and economic power. Ahmadinejad has come under fire for underestimating the United States’ ability to marshal support for the sanctions regime and, in turn, not preparing the country for the coming crush. In turn, all Iran’s presidential candidates have promised better management of the sanctions regime. Similarly, during the presidential campaign and debates, Jalili and his team have come under fire for not showing sufficient adeptness for diplomacy, compromise, and bargaining. The argument is not that he and his team should have abandoned Iran’s ‘nuclear rights.’ Rather, it is that Iran’s negotiators should have anticipated the blow that was about to hit the country and use diplomatic skills and negotiating flexibility to placate Iran’s interlocutors."

–By Mary Casey and Joshua Haber

<p>Mary Casey-Baker is the editor of Foreign Policy’s Middle East Daily Brief, as well as the assistant director of public affairs at the Project on Middle East Political Science and assistant editor of The Monkey Cage blog for the Washington Post. </p> Twitter: @casey_mary

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