Which is the real Hassan Rouhani? The one who on August 2 called Israel a “wound” — or the one who has repeatedly stated that he wants to improve relations with the West?
The answer: they are both the same person.
Mr Rouhani, who was inaugurated as president last week, is the consummate regime insider. For more than 24 years, he has been Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei’s representative on the Supreme National Security Council.
As reprehensible as his recent attack against Israel was, we could not and should not expect anything less. In today’s Iran, you cannot have a serious political career without attacking Israel in one way or another.
The same applies to human rights in Iran and the country’s support for Syria and Hizbollah. These are areas where we should not hold out much hope for Mr Rouhani.
He not a reformist, and a moderate only in Iranian terms. Iranian moderates — a separate faction associated with former president Rafsanjani — have never been known for protecting or promoting human rights. Meanwhile, when it comes to Iran support for Hizbollah, decisions are made between the Revolutionary Guards and the Supreme Leader. The president has little say in the matter.
It is on matters relating to the economy where Mr Rouhani could appear genuinely moderate. He is expected to rein in on some of former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s populist policies by reducing cash handouts and ending cheap loans. He is also likely to re-establish economic planning organisations such as the Management and Planning Organisation of Iran, which Ahmadinejad eliminated. The lack of economic planning that ensued is also blamed for many of the economic problems that Iran faces today.
With regards to the West, Mr Rouhani is expected to adopt a softer and more constructive narrative. The fact that a capable foreign policy technocrat such as Javad Zarif is slated to be his foreign minister reinforces this belief. In addition, this new stance likely to mean an end to public Holocaust denial and calls for Israel to be wiped off the map.
On Tuesday this week, in his first press conference since his inauguration, Mr Rouhani called for “serious and substantive” negotiations with the international community over Iran’s nuclear programme. It is expected that ahead of future talks, Mr Rouhani will pressure Khamenei to co-operate more fully with the International Atomic Energy Agency in declaring the extent of the country’s nuclear activities.
Mr Rouhani’s motivation for these moves is clear: he must seek to end the tough sanctions that are badly hurting the economy he is to manage.
E’etedal, “moderation” in Persian, was Mr Rouhani’s key campaign message. It resonated well with voters after eight years of Ahmadinejad’s extremism. Expect the new president to have more moderate face — and even then in only a few areas.