Will The Election Of The New Iranian President Force The West To Rethink Sanctions?

Many inside and outside of Iran now see a possible end to the nation’s diplomatic and economic isolation.
By @FrederickReese |
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    In this Monday, June 10, 2013 photo, Iranian President-elect Hasan Rowhani, a former nuclear negotiator, looks on in his plane, during a campaign tour. (File photo/AP/Vahid Salemi)

    In this Monday, June 10, 2013 photo, Iranian President-elect Hasan Rowhani, a former nuclear negotiator, looks on in his plane, during a campaign tour. (File photo/AP/Vahid Salemi)

    In Iran, the announcement of the election of Hassan Rowhani, a cleric and former nuclear negotiator, as president on Saturday had the nation’s reformists and moderates hopeful that the country’s conservative agenda may finally swing back toward the center. In light of a split conservative field in which no one candidate had the endorsement of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, Rowhani — with the support of former presidents Mohammad Khatami and Ali Akbar Rafsanjani — emerged victorious in a race that was expected to be dominated by traditionalists.

    With the win, many people both inside and outside of Iran now see a possible end to the nation’s diplomatic and economic isolation. A well-respected foreign policy expert, Rowhani has been known to work well with different factions and is well-liked. His successes as head of the nuclear negotiation team under Khatami won him fans, and it is generally felt that his election is an indication of Iran’s willingness to back away from military brinkmanship.

    “Our economic problems are because of our political problems, and we need a president who can solve our issues with the rest of the world. I am sure he will use experienced ministers from the left and the right because his past shows his ability to work with everyone,” said pharmacy clerk Shahram Majidi, who announced his plans to vote for Rowhani to The Washington Post.

    Many in the international community feel the same way. While the United States currently holds a hard line with Iran, other nations have shown a willingness to reconsider the current political standoff.

     

    Russia’s plea

    On Tuesday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov reported that Iran is now ready to agree to stop enriching uranium at 20 percent. Such a move would indicate that Iran is backing off efforts to construct thermonuclear warheads. In response, Russia urged the West to consider relaxing sanctions against Iran as a gesture of goodwill to encourage more talks on nuclear de-escalation.

    “It is necessary to avoid tightening the sanctions pressure against Tehran and start thinking about ways for a possible weakening [of sanctions] in a way that is tangible for Iran,” Lavrov said in an interview with Kuwaiti news agency Kuna.

    “For the first time in many years, hopeful signs have appeared in this process,” Lavrov said in an interview, according to a released transcript from the foreign ministry. “The Iranians are confirming the main thing — which is a readiness even at the current stage to stop enriching uranium to up to 20 percent.”

    Iran has insisted that its nuclear program is for power generation, but the West and Israel have accused Iran of seeking the bomb.

    Rumors of possible concessions on enrichment have swirled since April, when Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator, Saeed Jalili, indicated that the nation could review a suspension of 20 percent enrichment.

    “This could be a breakthrough agreement and to a large extent remove the acuteness of the existing problems,” said Lavrov. “The international community needs to react adequately to constructive moves by Iran, including the gradual removal of both unilateral and UN Security Council sanctions. It would be unforgivable not to use this opportunity.”

     

    UK and the nature of secret sanctions

    While it is unclear if the West will heed Russia’s call, ground is being ceded in the review of sanctions against Iran. In the U.K., the supreme court ruled that sanctions imposed on Iran-based Bank Mellat were undue and ordered the Treasury to remove them. The Treasury alleges that the bank financed the firms involved in Iran’s nuclear weapons program. To justify this, the Treasury asked the court to go into closed sessions for the first time this season to review classified intelligence.

    In response to this, the court ruled, “Having held a closed hearing, it turned out that there had been no point in the supreme court seeing the closed judgment [which related to the secret intelligence], because there was nothing in it which could have affected [our] reasoning in relation to the substantive appeal. A [closed hearing] should be resorted to only where it has been convincingly demonstrated to be genuinely necessary in the interests of justice. If the court strongly suspects that nothing in the closed material is likely to affect the outcome of the appeal, it should not order a closed hearing.”

    “Today’s ruling is a victory for the rule of law as much as it is for Bank Mellat,” said Sarosh Zaiwalla of Zaiwalla & Co. Solicitors, which represented Bank Mellat. “The judgment will put enormous confidence in the independence of the British judiciary and sets an example that even controversial disputes can be resolved by applying the principle of rule of law through the British courts.”

     

    “Wait-and-see”

    The United States, however, has confirmed it will stand firm on Iran. On Monday, President Obama indicated that the economic sanctions — which were intended only to target Iran’s export of petroleum products and trade with the Iranian Republican Guard Corps, but have since undermined the whole of the nation’s economy — will stand until Iran shows in clear terms it is not developing a nuclear weapon.

    “Our bottom lines have been, show the international community that you’re abiding by international treaties and obligations, that you’re not developing a nuclear weapon,” Obama said.

    Many, including Israel, feel that while Rowhani is a relative moderate, Khamenei still controls the nation.

    “It’s good to see the Iranian people protest against the radical regime,” said Yuval Steinitz, Israel’s minister of intelligence and strategic affairs. He cautioned, however, “As long as we don’t see a change it’s better to be wary and not celebrate prematurely.”

    Steinitz feels that Rowhani will be unwilling or unable to shift Iran’s stance on nuclear armament.

    “Therefore the international community needs to work hard to tighten sanctions and present a clear ultimatum to Iran in order to maybe bring about change,” he said. “The Iranians today are very close to the red line, they are about a year or less to a first (nuclear) bomb.”

    Israel feels that a nuclear-armed Iran would be an existential threat to the nation, as Iran has called for Israel’s destruction before.

    However, military action on the part of Israel would be more difficult to justify after Rowhani’s election and Iran’s announcement that it is willing to consider limits to uranium enrichment.

    Jamsheed Choksy, professor of Iranian Studies and the professor of Central Eurasian Studies, India Studies and History at Indiana University, told Mint Press News he feels that while Rowhani was elected thanks to the Supreme Leader’s efforts to remove extremists and by drop-outs from the candidate pool, his election may be a blessing in disguise for Khamanei.

    While Rowhani and Khamenei are ideologically different, Rowhani may allow a means for Iran to segue into compliance with the West — for example, by admitting U.N. inspectors back into the country. As this shift is unlikely to happen overnight, the world is in a “wait-and-see” mentality.

    “Although our problems won’t be solved overnight, we must work on them gradually and in consultation with experts,” Rowhani said, according to the ISNA news agency.

    This would suggest that change in Iran’s relationship with the West, particularly Israel and the U.S., will equally be gradual.

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