Factsheet: Who is Iran's Next President Hassan Rouhani?
Rouhani, the next President of Iran, is a former nuclear negotiator and political insider who gained the backing of moderates and reformists by campaigning against what he called the "extremism" of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's government and pledging "constructive interaction with the world" and "reconciliation and peace".
On June 14, 2013, Iranians defied all expectations and managed to elect Hassan Rouhani—a moderate who campaigned to “pursue a policy of reconciliation and peace”—to be the next President of Iran.
Rouhani, a former nuclear negotiator, is a political insider who gained the backing of moderates and reformists by campaigning against what he called the “extremism” of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s government and pledging "constructive interaction with the world.” He also criticized repression inside of Iran, saying that he would work to create a “non-securitized environment” in which those detained after the 2009 elections would be released. Rouhani’s ability to deliver may be greater than that of the previous reformist politicians because he is not a reformist—he is a centrist who has good relations with conservatives yet won the election with strong reformist support.
Actions will speak louder than words. But Rouhani’s election is a significant opening for moderate, pragmatic, and reformist elements in Iran. It signals a major potential opportunity for the U.S. to break the impasse over the nuclear issue, resolve human rights concerns, and address other important interests.
The United States must not close this window of opportunity on Iran’s moderates by imposing new sanctions or engaging in hostile rhetoric during Rouhani’s transition to power that could limit his ability pursue a new approach and weaken him in relation to hardliners opposed to a “policy of reconciliation and peace.”
On the Nuclear Issue
In 2006, Rouhani wrote in Time that it would be counter to Iranian interests to pursue a nuclear weapon and called for limits on enrichment and enhanced IAEA oversight of Iran’s nuclear activities:
During his 2013 campaign, Rouhani called for a more constructive approach to nuclear diplomacy, sharply criticizing the confrontational approach of Ahmadinejad:
On Human Rights
Rouhani’s campaign rallies were punctuated by calls from his crowds for the release of political prisoners, including the leaders of the Green Movement Mir Hossein Mousavi, Zahra Rahnavard, and Mehdi Karroubi. Rouhani has indicated he will work to create the conditions for their release:
Rouhani’s Nuclear Diplomacy (2003-2005)
What Experts Are Saying
Vali Nasr: "Rowhani's election should give Congress pause in further intensifying sanctions. Washington need not lift any sanctions yet, but simply being willing to discuss the possibility in exchange for Iranian concessions would be a sea change in the nuclear negotiations. Failing that, nothing will change in the nuclear impasse and the reformist moment could just be that. The ball is in Washington's court."
Paul Pillar: "The Iranian electorate has in effect said to the United States and its Western partners, “We've done all we can. Among the options that the Guardian Council gave us, we have chosen the one that offers to get us closest to accommodation, agreement and understanding with the West. Your move, America."
Suzanne Maloney (testifying before Congress): “The next step should be at the negotiating table, it should not be in this building because I think if there’s intensification of sanctions, Iranians themselves will read it as directed at their own action [in the election], and they, I will tell you, do not appreciate the sanctions.”
Trita Parsi: "The Iranians missed a major opportunity in 2009 when they assumed that President Obama would be no different from previous US leaders and then acted according to that assumption. Tehran's non-responsiveness rendered Obama's job to change the relationship more difficult. Washington should be careful not to commit that mistake."
Mark Fitzpatrick: "In October 2003, (Rouhani) agreed to a partial suspension of the enrichment programme, and a year later, to a greater halt. To domestic audiences, he bragged at the time and again in this year's campaign interviews that the suspension was only a tactical ploy to enable the nuclear programme to advance in other ways. This explanation was partly true, but it was gilding the lily. Any deal has to be viewed as a victory for both sides…A further reason for optimism is to be found in last week's Reuters report that Khamenei had given a guarded OK to a request by Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi to engage bilaterally with the United States. There has been little evidence of such flexibility toward engagement to date, but Salehi will surely be kept on after Rowhani takes office on 3 August."
Ray Takeyh: "The Presidents have had enormous impacts on Iran's nuclear calculations and I would suggest between the years 2003 to 2010 some of the most important initiatives on the nuclear issue were actually initiatives of the Presidential office. The decision in 2003 to suspend the enrichment program was a Presidential initiative that the Supreme Leader agreed to. The decision in 2005 to resume enrichment was a Presidential decision--candidate Ahmadinejad had campaigned on it, obviously the Supreme Leader agreed to that. And much of the initiatives that we saw over the past couple of years including the Turkey-Brazil deal were the initiatives of the President that the Supreme Leader sometimes agreed to, or sometimes didn't, but he went along with it."
What the U.S. is Saying
State John Kerry: "President-elect
Rouhani pledged repeatedly during his campaign to restore and expand freedoms
for all Iranians. In the months ahead, he has the opportunity to keep his
promises to the Iranian people. We, along with our international partners,
remain ready to engage directly with the Iranian government. We hope they will
honor their international obligations to the rest of the world in order to
reach a diplomatic solution that will fully address the international
community’s concerns about Iran’s nuclear program."