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The Iranian President’s First 100 Days

"So first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself." –President Franklin D. Roosevelt, inaugural address, March 4, 1933 Since FDR, there has been a grand tradition in the United States to assess the progress of American presidents by what they accomplished during their ...

Photo: EPA/JASON SZENES
Photo: EPA/JASON SZENES
Photo: EPA/JASON SZENES

"So first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself."
--President Franklin D. Roosevelt, inaugural address, March 4, 1933

Since FDR, there has been a grand tradition in the United States to assess the progress of American presidents by what they accomplished during their first 100 says in office. Like FDR, Iranian President Hasan Rouhani also faced humongous economic problems upon assuming his presidency on Aug. 4, 2013.

Rouhani promised measures to tackle Iran's economic problems in fewer than 100 days. "We pledge to the people that in the first 100 days ...we will take the necessary and urgent actions with regard to the economy and inform the people of the result," said Rouhani in Tehran during the third week of August.

"So first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself."
–President Franklin D. Roosevelt, inaugural address, March 4, 1933

Since FDR, there has been a grand tradition in the United States to assess the progress of American presidents by what they accomplished during their first 100 says in office. Like FDR, Iranian President Hasan Rouhani also faced humongous economic problems upon assuming his presidency on Aug. 4, 2013.

Rouhani promised measures to tackle Iran’s economic problems in fewer than 100 days. "We pledge to the people that in the first 100 days …we will take the necessary and urgent actions with regard to the economy and inform the people of the result," said Rouhani in Tehran during the third week of August.

To achieve his economic goals, Rouhani needs to decrease external pressures on Iran, such as by reducing the effects of sanctions, which in turn requires a deal with the major powers on Iran’s nuclear file. Just like Supreme Leader Ruhollah Khomeini drank from the "poison chalice" to cut a deal with the despised Saddam Hussein of Iraq and end the Iran-Iraq War, so Rouhani thinks the Islamic Republic of Iran should make temporary compromises to preserve survival of the clerical regime.

By engaging in a charm offensive at the United Nations, Rouhani created a media circus when he addressed the General Assembly. And by accepting a telephone call from U.S. President Barack Obama en route back to Tehran, Rouhani reinforced the idea that Iran is open to making compromises necessary for an end to sanctions.

But just as Winston Churchill said, "I have not become the king’s first minister in order to preside over the liquidation of the British Empire," Rouhani did not become president to deal away Tehran’s nuclear assets. Change in Rouhani’s tone may not foreshadow a change in Iran’s actions to become a nuclear-arms-capable state.

Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei pushed back against Rouhani’s charm offensive, saying, "Some of what occurred in the New York trip was not proper." He also said, "The U.S. government is not trustworthy, is self-important, and breaks its promises." The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) is not thrilled about making any temporary compromises with Washington, prompting Rouhani to suggest that the IRGC stay out of the political arena.

Obama is having a difficult time getting Republicans to end the shutdown of the U.S. government and agree to an increase in the debt limit. He would have even more difficulty gaining the bipartisan support on Capitol Hill necessary for sanctions relief for Iran without major concessions by Tehran on the nuclear issue.

Regionally, the Middle East offers a ripe arena that fuels media expectation of a nuclear deal for sanctions relief. Iran is Syria’s main pipeline of arms and military reinforcements in the civil war. For Obama to achieve his objective of ousting Bashar al-Assad’s regime without an Islamist takeover of Syria, Rouhani may believe Obama would be willing to accept less in the nuclear talks, for regime change in Damascus.

The possibility of a new alignment of Tehran and Washington not only encourages Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to engage in a diplomatic offensive against Rouhani but also upsets Sunni Arab Gulf state leaders who share Israel’s alarm at Obama’s outreach toward Shiite Iran, whether about Syria or in the nuclear talks.

And Sen. John McCain questioned whether the Obama administration is too trusting of Rouhani in nuclear talks in Geneva scheduled for mid-October. Reports circulate that Tehran is behind Baghdad’s seizure of Iranian dissidents — members of the People’s Mojahedin of Iran — and their possible forcible extradition to Iran. Such reports prompt pushback from Congress. Hence, there is too little support on the Hill for a reduction of sanctions for a doubtful deal.

The bottom line: It appears that Rouhani will have only made progress with the press in attaining his main goal during his first 100 days. Sanctions relief is not feasible in his first term unless he closes the gap between charm and substance, which is doubtful even if he wanted to do so.

Raymond Tanter served on the National Security Council staff in Ronald Reagan’s administration and is professor emeritus at the University of Michigan. His latest book is Arab Rebels and Iranian Dissidents.

Tag: Iran

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