Some hope, more doubts about Iran

MODERATE CLERIC: All eyes are now on Mr Hassan Rohani to see if he can close the rift between Teheran and much of the world.


    Jun 17, 2013

    Some hope, more doubts about Iran

    IRAN'S enemies and friends responded to the election of Mr Hassan Rohani as its next president with a little hope, but more scepticism, that the moderate cleric can close the rift between Teheran and much of the world.

    Mr Rohani, a Shi'ite cleric and former chief nuclear negotiator with Western powers, received a resounding mandate for change from Iranians weary of years of economic decline under United Nations and Western sanctions and security clampdowns on dissent.

    His victory goes some way to repairing the legitimacy of the Islamic Republic, punctured four years ago when an election marred by fraud allegations led to mass unrest, and may give leverage to reformist voices muzzled since then to re-emerge.

    State TV re-broadcast Mr Rohani's victory speech yesterday and its website quoted him as saying: "With their celebrations last night, the Iranian people showed they are hopeful about the future and, God willing, ethics and moderation will govern the country."

    He also said there was a new chance "in the international arena" for "those who truly respect democracy and cooperation and free negotiation".

    Washington said it stood ready to engage with Iran to reach a "diplomatic solution" to its nuclear programme, which the West suspects is intended to produce nuclear weapons - something Iran denies.

    "We respect the vote of the Iranian people and congratulate them for their participation in the political process, and their courage in making their voices heard," the White House said in a statement.

    Israeli officials were cooler, one minister suggesting that the election of an apparent moderate merely made it easier for Teheran to buy time to forge ahead with its nuclear work.

    "The moment you have a candidate who is perceived to be a might be easier for some countries to again be tempted to say 'Let's give (Iran) another chance, let's push off the timetable again, another round of talks and another round of talks'," said Civil Defence Minister Gilad Erdan.

    "In the meantime, the (uranium) centrifuges are running."

    There was caution, too, in the Arab world, where conflict pitting Sunni Muslims against Shi'ites is intensifying - most of all in Syria, where Shi'ite Iran backs the government against mostly Sunni rebels.

    Syrian opposition activists saw little hope for change from Mr Rohani.

    "The election is cosmetic," said opposition activist Omar al-Hariri from Deraa, where the uprising began two years ago.

    In Saudi Arabia, whose US-allied rulers lead opposition to what they see as Iran's drive to spread its power and religion, analyst Jamal Khashoggi said: "I'm sure for the Saudi leadership this is the best outcome of the election."

    He recalled that Iran's last reformist president, Mr Mohammad Khatami, who visited Riyadh while in office from 1997-2005, had mended ties - but at a time of less ferocious disputes.

    While recognising the result could signal a change, some analysts however advised caution.

    "There is reason to be optimistic about Hassan Rohani's win. He is calm, pragmatic, and more reasonable than most Iranian politicians," wrote senior policy analyst Alireza Nader of the Rand Corporation.

    "But there is a lot to be cautious about. Rohani is part of the system...He is not a reformist. He appears as an alternative candidate when compared to people like former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. This is a low bar."

    Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu noted that it was Iran's theocratic supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and not the president who set nuclear policy.

    Analysts also noted that while Mr Rohani is moderate compared to the rest of the candidates, true reformers have already been weeded out and banned from standing in the election.