Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov repeated in an interview with the Kuwaiti press on Tuesday an assertion he has made before, i.e. that Iran stands ready to cease enriching uranium to 19.75% for the purpose of fueling its medical reactor. This level of enrichment was forced on Iran when it ran out of enriched uranium for its small reactor that produces medical isotopes for treating cancer. Iran had bought a stock of fuel from Argentina before the latter mothballed its nuclear program. Most of Iran’s enrichment is to only 3.5% for making fuel for nuclear reactors so as to produce electricity, but it does have some of the 19.75% enrichment level (the last level considered “Low Enriched Uranium” (LEU). Israel and the US are worried that this stock could be most easily further enriched to the 90% or so necessary to produce a nuclear bomb.
The USG Open Source Center translates Larvov’s remarks from the Russian:
Russian minister says Iran ready to stop enriching uranium to 20 per cent
Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation
Tuesday, June 18, 2013
Document Type: OSC Summary
Russian minister says Iran ready to stop enriching uranium to 20 per cent
Russia’s foreign minister has said that Iran is prepared to suspend efforts to enrich uranium to 20 per cent.
In an interview with the Kuwaiti government’s official Kuna news agency, published in Russian on the Russian Foreign Ministry website on 18 June, Sergey Lavrov said the move could be a “breakthrough” in the stalemate surrounding Iran’s nuclear programme.
“In the efforts to resolve the situation surrounding the Iranian nuclear programme, for the first time in many years, there are some encouraging signs. Without doubt, an important role in this has been played by the principles of phasing (Russian: poetapnost) and mutuality proposed by the Group of Six, which offers Iran the prospect of sanctions being eased and, ultimately, lifted, in exchange for conscientious and consistently deepening cooperation with the international community,” Lavrov said.
“Without going into detail, the Iranians confirm the main point – their readiness, right now, to agree to suspend the enrichment of uranium to 20 per cent. This really could be a breakthrough agreement, and could significantly reduce the severity of the existing problems, including concerns over the likelihood of a future escalation of enrichment to weapons-grade. Naturally, this assumes substantial reciprocal measures on the part of the Group of Six. The international community should respond appropriately and with mutuality to constructive movement on the Iranian side, including with the gradual suspension and lifting of sanctions, both unilateral sanctions and those introduced through the UN Security Council. It would be unforgivable not to make use of this opportunity,” he added.
“It is extremely important that, in circumstances where the possibility of progress at the talks has been identified, all sides should refrain from ill-conceived moves that might undermine these efforts. The continued ramping-up of sanctions pressure on Tehran must be avoided, and thought needs to be given to identifying ways of possibly gradually reducing that pressure, in areas that Iran will notice.
“We believe that, in order to ensure that both Iran and the Group of Six can move forward, political will and a reserve of flexibility are required. That is what we believe will deliver success in the negotiations process, irrespective of where and in which country the latest elections are taking place.
“We believe that, in the current situation, a reduction in the accumulated momentum of the negotiations process is unacceptable. The date and venue for the next meeting between Iran and the Group of Six need to be agreed as soon as possible.
“At the same time, we proceed on the basis that Iran has an unconditional right to develop a civilian nuclear programme, including its right to enrichment, once all the outstanding issues have been clarified and Iran’s entire nuclear activity has been placed under the reliable and comprehensive monitoring of the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency).
“As for the results of the presidential election in Iran, we proceed on the basis that Iran’s new president will adhere to the existing rules in respect of the supreme leadership of the IRI (Islamic Republic of Iran), and will continue to follow its line on foreign policy and on sensitive domestic problems,” Lavrov said.
(Description of Source: Moscow Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation in Russian — Official website of the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs; URL: http://www.mid.ru)
Early election returns in Iran suggest that former National Security adviser and nuclear negotiator Hassan Rouhani may have won over 50% of the vote, in which case he will have won without needing to go to a second round. Too early to tell if that is so. While it is true that the president in Iran is more like the typical US vice president and is relatively powerless, he can nevertheless set a tone and initiate policies slightly different from those of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. Iran is not yet a totalitarian dictatorship, and Khamenei himself has sometimes been forced to tack with the wind. Any change will be slow and at the margins, but it could nevertheless be significant in a very polarized world.
1. People are still willing to come out and vote for president in impressive numbers, despite the widespread feeling that the 2009 polls were tinkered with by the regime in favor of populist hard liner Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Even if the 75% turnout claimed by the Iranian press is exaggerated, turnout was impressive.
2. The poor showing of nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili is a slap in the face both of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and of outgoing president Ahmadinejad. The most hard line of the candidates got only 13% of the vote in early returns.
3. Those who believed that Khamenei would try to fix this election for Jalili as he is accused by the Green movement of doing four years ago were mistaken. Either the Leader feels that he has sufficient control of the country to risk a mildly reformist candidate like Hasan Rouhani winning, or the turmoil the country faced in 2009 chastened him and he decided to let the public blow off steam by giving him a president he isn’t entirely happy with.
4. The US economic blockade of Iran has produced a great deal of dissatisfaction with the status quo, and status quo candidates did poorly as a result. Ahmadinejad’s easy money policies have run inflation up to 30%, and imported goods have become expensive as US sanctions badly hit the valueof the riyal.
5. The hawks in Washington will miss the quirky Ahmadinejad, who often said things that seemed buffoonish or menacing or both at once. The new president will present a much better image of Iran, which will reduce the country’s vulnerability to international hostility.
6. Hassan Rouhani, the hands-down winner as I write, promised more effective diplomacy with the West, and the Iranian public seems to have liked that message more than the obstreperousness of Jalili. Rouhani said, in al-Sharq al-Awsat:
“The Iran–US relationship is a complex and difficult issue. A bitter history, filled with mistrust and animosity, marks this relationship. It has become a chronic wound whose healing is difficult but possible, provided that good faith and mutual respect prevail. . . . As a moderate, I have a phased plan to deescalate hostility to a manageable state of tension and then engage in promotion of interactions and dialogue between the two peoples to achieve détente, and finally reach to the point of mutual respect that both peoples deserve.”
7. Rouhani has pledged more transparency about what he says is Iran’s peaceful nuclear enrichment program, aimed at producing fuel for nuclear reactors to generate electricity. He told al-Sharq al-Awsat:
” Iran has an exclusively peaceful nuclear program, which under international law is lawful and indisputable. A politically motivated campaign of misinformation has persistently attempted to cast doubts on the exclusively peaceful nature of this program. This campaign is being fueled and directed first and foremost by Israel, in order to divert international attention not only from its own clandestine and dangerous nuclear weapons program, but also from its destabilizing and inhuman policies and practices in Palestine and the Middle East. Regrettably, the Security Council has discredited itself by allowing the United States to impose this counter-productive Israeli agenda. If elected, I will reverse this trend by restoring international confidence . . . Nuclear weapons have no role in Iran’s national security doctrine, and therefore Iran has nothing to conceal. But in order to move towards the resolution of Iran’s nuclear dossier, we need to build both domestic consensus and global convergence and understanding through dialogue.”
8. Rouhani says he wants Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to hold open presidential elections in 2014. This stance is not the same as asking al-Assad to step down, but it obviously opens the door to al-Assad’s removal, since he could not possibly win such an election. The statement seems to me to imply that Rouhani could live with a post-Assad Syria. (But note that Rouhani, even if he becomes president, would not be in a position to pursue this question, since Khamenei is in charge of Syria policy and the Baath Party is not going to hold pluralist free elections.)
9. Rouhani wants to tamp down the Middle East Cold War between Iran and Saudi Arabia: “On your question regarding Saudi Arabia, I plan to reverse the recently exacerbated [and] unfortunate rivalry between the two countries into mutual respect and mutually beneficial arrangements and cooperation to enhance security and restore stability in the region.” He continues, however, to support Shiite majority rights in Bahrain, a point of contention between Shiite Iran and the Sunni countries of the Gulf.
10. Rouhani will attempt to heal the severe rift between Green Movement liberals and Khomeinist hard liners by getting Mirhossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi, leaders of the 2009 protest movement, released from house arrest. He said,
“I was Iran’s national Security Advisor for sixteen years during the administrations of Rafsanjani and Khatami. Therefore, I know how to deal with sensitive issues. If elected, I will do my best to secure the release of those who have been incarcerated following the regrettable events of 2009. I know that the constitutional powers of the president in Iran do not extend to the areas outside the realm of the executive branch of the system. However, I am quite optimistic that I can muster the necessary domestic consensus to improve the present situation of Mr. Mousavi and Mr. Karrubi.
The USG Open Source Center translates or paraphrases reactions in the Qatari Arabic press to the Lebanese Shiite organization, Hizbullah, having successfully intervened in Syria to help the Baath regime retake the town of Qusair. Qatar has been a major backer of the largely Sunni Arab rebels.
Qatari Newspapers Condemn Hizballah’s Involvement in Syrian Crisis
Thursday, June 13,
Document Type: OSC Summary
On 10 and 11 June Qatari news websites were observed to carry opinion pieces reacting to the latest GCC action against Hizballah and the latter’s involvement in Syria, particularly in Al-Qusayr. The following is a roundup of these commentaries and editorials:
Doha Al-Sharq Online in Arabic — Website of leading, large-circulation independent daily with close ties to the ruling family; focuses on domestic affairs; URL: http://www.al-sharq.com/
–on 10 June carries a 700-word commentary saying to Bashar al-Asad and Hasan Nasrallah that their “fake victory” in Al-Qusayr is a “big disappointment” and a “scandal.” The commentator says that the leadership of Hizballah “fooled us with its political speech that uses the words of ‘resistance’ and ‘Zionist entity’,” and that what happened in Al-Qusayr revealed that Hizballah is actually “working for the devil” and it “unveiled a sectarian side” which is “dangerous.”
The commentator goes on to say that Al-Asad and Nasrallah should not “cheer” after what happened in Al-Qusayr because the Al-Asad forces have regained several neighborhoods in revolutionary cities before, “but the revolutionaries regained them quickly and Al-Qusayr will not be an exception.”
Doha Al-Sharq Online in Arabic on 10 June carries a 600-word commentary saying that “the stupid Hizballah, which was hurting Lebanon for years with its nasty steps that destroyed the Lebanese people, is coming fast now toward Syria following the dictates of its masters, the [Iranian] mullahs, to destroy both countries in the name of ‘the resistance’.”
The commentator says: “We are wondering, was Hizballah able to control even one Israeli spot since its foundation; did it draw to Lebanon anything other than devastation and the residing of a half million refugees who were sheltered by Syrians in Al-Qusayr and Damascus, and all of this just for capturing two soldiers?”
Doha Al-Sharq Online in Arabic on 10 June carries a 600-word commentary saying that the corpses of the members of Nasrallah’s party that are returning to Lebanon are a “real expression of the dark fate that awaits this party accompanied by its ally the Syrian regime and its master the Iranian regime.”
The commentator says that the loss is not only “the failure of the battle or the war; but the amount of human and military losses of the Syrian regime’s army and of the hordes of gangs supporting him (Al-Asad), especially the evil Iranian party, augmented the cost of this limited progress and made it more costly than any regular military operation.”
The commentator says that the Al-Qusayr battle is “just one round of the big upcoming jihadist rounds that will teach the Iranian takfiri, (holding other Muslims as infidels) terrorist, and fascist enemy the meaning of fighting and martyrdom.”
The Syrian response to Sunday’s Israeli air strike on Damascus, which killed 42, was twofold. Beleagured President Bashar al-Assad announced that soldiers manning the country’s anti-aircraft batteries may now fire at will (the Baath Party system is slow because subalterns have to ask permission for every battle action, and initiative on the ground is usually discouraged.). Translation: Civilian airliners should now stay far from Syrian airspace, lest they be mistaken by trigger happy soldiers manning the anti-aircraft batteries for Israeli jets. Al-Assad also encouraged Palestinian guerrilla groups to attack Israel from Syrian soil (this is bluster). Syrian forces appear to have lobbed mortars into the Israeli-occupied Syrian Golan Heights in reprisal on Monday.
In my view, the Israeli strikes are opportunistic and tactical, not a game changer. Tel Aviv has long been frustrated that Iran supplies munitions to lebanon’s Hizbullah through Syria, but was stymied from doing much about it by Syria’s extensive air defenses. Now Syria’s army is distracted by the civil war, and the Israelis are taking advantage. Hence the Israeli military assurance that ‘there are no winds of war’ — i.e. no larger Israeli war against Syria is in the offing.
Meanwhile, a top Iranian military official denied that the Israelis had hit an Iranian missile storage site in Damascus or that the missiles were intended for Hizbullah. He also threatened reprisals against regional powers de facto aligned with Israel against the Baath government of Syria (Turkey? Jordan? Saudi Arabia, Qatar?)
The USG Open Source Center translates:
FYI — Army Official Denies Existence of Iranian Weaponry at Israeli Strike Site in Syria
Monday, May 6, 2013
Document Type: OSC Summary
Tehran Al-Alam Television in Arabic at 1808 GMT on 5 May reported that Major General Mas’ud Jazayeri, the assistant to the Chief of Staff of the Iranian Armed Forces, has condemned the recent Israeli strikes on locations inside Syria and denied that the sites contained weapons provided from Iran.
Speaking in a 47-minute n interview with Al-Alam TV during its “From Tehran” program, Jazayeri said there was “no doubt about the Zionist entity’s aggressive trend” and added that “some countries in the region were (also) involved and one of these days will be held to account”.
Continuing to express little surprise over the strikes, he added: “We do not expect any different from Israel.”
The military official said that Israel was “intervening” in Syria and had previously “intervened in Lebanon and the Palestinian Territories, against Hamas of course.”
Speaking in Farsi with simultaneous Arabic translation, Jazayeri added that “unfortunately, there is a war between Arabs and Arabs, between Muslims and Muslims, under direction from the Americans and international Zionism”, adding that this was specifically occurring in Syria.
Asked about “Israeli and Western sources’” claims that the Syrian site targeted in Jamraya stored Iranian-made Fateh-110 missiles, Jazayeri said that the Syrian government and people currently had sufficient capability of their own “in terms of military, security, intelligence and psychological ability.”
He added that the Syrians “are not in need of Iranian weapons support, and therefore such news is denied.”
He also appeared to deny further reports that Iranian Fateh-110 missiles were supplied to Hezbollah, saying that groups such as Hamas and Hezbollah had also reached “self-sufficiency and do not need weapons from other countries.”
Jazayeri said that “the US and the other hostile countries, including some in the region, have done all they can against Syria… as well as to organize, fund and equip the opposition factions.”
He added: “Currently our region is unfortunately facing the largest kind of governmental terrorism in history”, saying that “the leader of this terrorism is the USA”.
Asked what the reaction to the strikes might be and if it may come from Hezbollah or the Syrian army, Jazayeri said that “the resistance (reference to groups such as Hezbollah and Hamas) will not allow the progression of the Zionist entity in the region”.
Answering a question about Western military exercises and mine-sweeping operations in the region, he said that “the administration of the Straight of Hormuz is in the hands of Iran and measures of this kind are made by the Americans to reassure their friends,’ and igniting what he called “Iranphobia” and “Shiitephobia”. He said the exercises included nothing new, adding that Iran was monitoring the issue and possessed “very notable information about the exercises”, while stressing that it was “a very ordinary exercise.”
Remaining on the topic of the Strait of Hormuz, he said that Iran has repeatedly announced that the Strait will remain open but that at the same time, the presence of foreign troops “has often led to tension and violations in this crucial case.”
On regional differences, Jazayeri said that in Syria “we are not seeing a war between the Sunnis and Shiites; there are groups that in reality are not Sunni, or Shiite, or even Muslim”.
More generally, he said that there were efforts to “exploit differences” between societies that came back to “sedition with a historic precedent,” saying that “the specialist in enflaming this sedition and prompting differences and tensions between states and societies is actually Britain.”
Jazayeri added that the US was now “stepping into this position,” before continuing to sharply criticize some regional states and accusing them of allying themselves with Israel and the US.
(Description of Source: Tehran Al-Alam Television in Arabic — 24-hour Arabic news channel, targeting a pan-Arab audience, of Iranian state-run television, officially controlled by the office of the supreme leader)
Michael McShane writes in a guest column for Informed Comment
In a recent article published in the Wall Street Journal, Jay Solomon highlighted the disproportionate attention President Obama has paid to Iran’s nuclear program since coming to office compared to thediplomatic engagement the United States has pursued vis-à-vis North Korea’s own steadily growing nuclear weapons program.
“This gap between North Korea and Iran, which is widely recognized in Washington, is exposing what many Western diplomats and security analysts believe has been the U.S.’s muted response to Pyongyang’s nuclear advances in recent years, as compared with Iran’s.”
While the piece offers cursory explanations – “direct confrontation with North Korean ally China” and “Israel’s concerns” – for the uneven U.S. responses to the respective nuclear ambitions of North Korea and Iran, it simply provides general background information and a binary breakdown of the differing stages of each state’s nuclear progress, i.e., the overwhelming weaponization realities of North Korea’s program in contrast to the non-existent capabilities of a purported Iranian nuclear threat.
In 2003, Pyongyang withdrew from the Non-Proliferation Treaty. As Solomon details in his report, the North Koreans have managed to push forward with their nuclear program, conducting three nuclear tests since 2006; yet the U.S., until recently, has handled North Korean provocations with much less hostility – diplomatically and coercively – compared to Iran.
China has certainly been a major factor in U.S. decision-making. Nevertheless, Beijing is just as interested in a nuclear-free Korean peninsula as the U.S.The United States also provides security guarantees to two of its closest allies, South Korea and Japan, which are dangerously close to finding themselves within range of a North Korean nuclear payload; yet despite the dangers of nuclear proliferation and the de-stabilizing regional environment for its allies, there hasn’t been the same sense of urgency for the U.S. when it comes to dealing with North Korea.
Why has U.S. policy ultimately diverged with respect to North Korea and Iran? Quite simply, North Korea’s neighborhood – though quickly evolving into a much more important focal point (Asia “pivot”) for Washington – has not been nearly as strategically important to U.S. interests as the Middle East, whereinmaintaining Israel’s regional military superiority and safeguarding Persian Gulf hydrocarbons remain critical national security interests.
The United States is required by law not only “to provide Israel the military capabilities necessary to deter and defend itself by itself against any threats” but also “to help Israel preserve its qualitative military edge amid rapid and uncertain regional political transformation.”
The U.S. asserts that a nuclear-armed Iran would represent:
“A development that would fundamentally threaten vital American interests, destabilize the region, encourage regional nuclear proliferation, further empower and embolden Iran, the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism, and provide it the tools to threaten its neighbors, including Israel.”
Israeli officials have expressed concerns to their U.S. counterparts that a nuclear-armed Iran presents a threat to Israel’s military position within the region. While senior government officials and policymakers won’t openly discuss the fear of losing Israel’s regional nuclear monopoly, based on public statements, it’s apparent Israel’s primary concern is its diminished ability to act unilaterally – not an existential threat – if Iran were to acquire nuclear weapons.
Former Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak stated:
“From our point of view […] a nuclear state offers an entirely different kind of protection to its proxies. Imagine if we enter another military confrontation with Hezbollah, which has over 50,000 rockets that threaten the whole area of Israel, including several thousand that can reach Tel Aviv. A nuclear Iran announces that an attack on Hezbollah is tantamount to an attack on Iran. We would not necessarily give up on it, but it would definitely restrict our range of operations.”
The strategic importance of the Middle East and its stability arguably lies in the foundation and engine of U.S. strength and eventual global hegemony – oil. U.S. power and global dominance, past and present, increased through its industrial economic growth, which was driven by access to cheap oil. Once domestic oil supplies reached its peak in the 1970’s, the oil-rich Persian Gulf became an immensely important strategic interest for the U.S, an interest that would need to be protected to maintain U.S. power.
During the 1970’s, as a friendly ally and relatively powerful client of the U.S., the Shah of Iran helped secure the U.S.’s primary interest (oil), thus maintaining U.S. influence in the Middle East. In fact, at this time, Israel and Iran served to militarily check any challenges emanating from within the region. After the Iranian Revolution in 1979, the new Iranian regime proved to be virulently anti-American and had no intention of catering to U.S. interests in the Persian Gulf.
Israel has been a staunch ally of the U.S. for decades, helping to preserve U.S. interests within the Middle East. U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Political-Military Affairs Andrew Shapiro told an audience in 2011,“Israel is a vital ally and serves as a cornerstone of our regional security commitments.” He quoted former Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, saying, “For Israel, there is no greater strategic threat than the prospect of a nuclear-armed Iran.”
Israel’s nuclear weapons capability affords it an unmatched edge in military power within the region; and this historical and current regional balance of power serves and protects the interests of Israel’s closest ally and patron, the United States.
U.S. (and Israeli) fear of the potential shift in the balance of power due to a nuclear Iran threatens regional stability and thus the U.S.’s most important interest in the Persian Gulf – the secure flow of oil. Hence, for the past decade, Iran’s nuclear program –not North Korea’s – has garnered the lion’s share of U.S. attention.
Michael McShane is an intern with the EastWest Institute’s China Program and a recent graduate of The Milano School of International Affairs, Management and Urban Policy, where he earned his Masters in International Affairs.
Farhang Jahanpour writes in a guest column for Informed Comment
The next crucial round of Iranian presidential elections will be held on 14 June 2013. It has just been officially reported that Hassan Rowhani has declared his candidacy for the election. Rowhani is an influential reformist politician and cleric. He was the chief Iranian nuclear negotiator under President Mohammad Khatami, who negotiated successfully with the Troika of European countries, UK, France and Germany. Under his supervision, his team agreed to temporarily suspend nuclear enrichment and reprocessing activities for two years during the course of the negotiations. Uranium enrichment was resumed after his successor, Ali Larijani, who was appointed Iran’s nuclear negotiator on August 14, 2005 by President Mahmud Ahmadinejad shortly after assuming power, said that European countries had not lived up to their promises to help Iran with peaceful nuclear technology. Khatami’s government had threatened to resume enrichment if there was no progress in negotiations with the West, but the resumption of enrichment took place under Ahmadinejad’s government.
So far, the long, lackluster list of the candidates who have officially declared their candidacy is made up largely of the so-called Principlist wing of the Iranian politics. This term applies to the diehard conservatives who are staunch supporters of Ayatollah Ali Khamene’i, who are close to the senior clerics and the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC), who are on the whole opposed to rapprochement with the West and particularly with the United States, and who favor a militant, confrontational attitude towards the outside world. The main candidates of the Principlists are Gholam Ali Haddad-Adel, a former Majles speaker whose daughter is married to Ayatollah Khamene’i’s influential son Mojtaba who is sometimes mentioned as his father’s possible successor; Ali-Akbar Velayati, who served as Iran’s foreign minister for 13 years and who has been the Supreme Leader’s foreign policy advisor since leaving office; and Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf, the current mayor of Tehran who spent a few years as the Commander of the IRGC.
However, an intense rivalry has broken out between the Principlists and President Ahmadinejad, who is not going to leave office quietly. During the past few weeks he has campaigned furiously in favor of his handpicked candidate Esfandiar Rahim Masha’i, his son-in-law, whom he appointed as his first vice-president. After Ayatollah Khamene’i ordered him to remove Masha’i from that post, Ahmadinejad immediately appointed him as his chief of staff. This set the stage for four years of open warfare between Ahmadinejad and Khamene’i, although the Supreme Leader stuck his neck out in supporting Ahmadinejad’s re-election as president, despite persistent reports that he had lost the election. During the past few years, Ahmadinejad and Masha’i have portrayed themselves as champions of Iranian culture and nationalism, and even Iranian Islam, trying to undermine the role of the clerics. They have even declared a willingness to hold direct talks with the United States. As the result of their controversial policies, the hardliners have referred to Masha’i and his supporters as the “Deviant Movement” which has departed from the path of Islam. Some clerics have even accused him of blasphemy for declaring that the return of the Hidden Imam is imminent.
From the reformist camp, Mostafa Kavakebian, leader of the Democratic Party, has declared his candidacy, but it is unlikely that he will receive the backing of the Guardian Council that has to approve the credentials of the candidates. Kavakebian has stated that he will obey the dictates of Ayatollah Ali Khamene’i, hoping that this will soften rightwing opposition, but this has given rise to the displeasure of some reformers who mistrust him and accuse him of being too ready to compromise with the conservatives.
Under these circumstances, Rowhani’s candidacy is of great importance. Although a reformer and close to former Presidents Hashemi-Rafsanjani and Khatami, the Guardian Council would find it very difficult to disqualify him because he is a Shia mujtahid or senior cleric. He has been a member of the Assembly of Experts that is in charge of selecting the Supreme Leader since 1999, a member of the Expediency Council that arbitrates between the Majles and the Guardian Council since 1991, and he has also served as a member of the Supreme National Security Council as one of Ayatollah Khamene’i’s two representatives since 1989. He was elected for five terms to the Majles, or Iranian parliament, for a total of 20 years, and served two terms as the deputy speaker of the Majles. He also served as the member of the defense committee and foreign policy committee (for eight years in each committee). Currently, he heads the Centre for Strategic Research, a center established in 1989 to draw up and compile Iran’s strategies in various fields, especially in international, political, economic and cultural fields.
Rowhani has been an open critic of President Ahmadinejad’s nuclear and economic polices and has argued that the president’s provocative comments have turned many countries against Iran and have made it more difficult for her to pursue her policies. He stated that Ahmadinejad’s “careless, uncalculated and unstudied remarks and slogans have imposed many costs on the nation and the country.” He criticized Ahmadinejad’s frequent statements dismissing the effect of U.N. sanctions on Iran, pointing out “the economic impact is felt in the life of the people.”
Nevertheless, Rowhani has also criticized Western approaches to the Iranian nuclear program. In an interview with Iranian television, Rowhani said that European countries had agreed that Iran could have the full nuclear fuel cycle provided that they had sufficient guarantees that Iran would not move towards nuclear weapons. In an article in Time Magazine, he stated that Iran would join the Additional Protocol and would bring its entire nuclear program under the IAEA inspection if her right to enrichment were recognized.
He has criticized the reports issued by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) under Yukiya Amano, saying: “At a time when all Iran’s nuclear activities are under the supervision of the IAEA, the agency’s suspicion about the purposes of our country is meaningless.” He dismissed what he termed the “West’s cruel and unjust pressures on Iran”, adding that Tehran would persist in its nuclear efforts.
Rowhani bravely supported the demonstrations that were staged in Iran after the rigged 2009 presidential election and criticized the government for suppressing peaceful marches. In an article in the reformist daily Mardom Salari in February 2010, he said that not only did people have the right to protest if they felt that their vote had been stolen, but that such protest was a beautiful thing because it showed that people attached importance to their vote. He wrote: “Not only political protest is permissible, it is a political and social duty of everyone to do so.” Stressing that it was people’s natural duty to protest against what they perceived to be the stealing of their votes, he added: “If they are right, you have to accept their views, if wrong, you should show by proofs that they are wrong not by violence. But some people do not have the tolerance to listen to opposing views.”
Rowhani is an intelligent and well-educated man. In addition to his clerical studies, he also attended the University of Tehran in 1969 and received a bachelor’s degree in judicial law in 1972. He continued his studies in the West and received his master’s degree in public law followed by a doctorate degree from the University of Glasgow. He is fluent in English and Arabic and has published a large number of books in Persian, as well as in English and Arabic.
Under the present circumstances when nuclear negotiations with the West have dragged on for so long and have seemingly reached an impasse with neither side able or willing to take the extra step to reach an overall agreement, the election of Rowhani as president could unlock the door to serious negotiations. He is a tried and tested politician, and he is trusted by the West as he was able to reach agreement with the West over the thorny nuclear issue. He also enjoys Ayatollah Khamene’i’s support as a safe pair of hands as well as being a loyal executive. In the absence of any other viable reformist candidate running for the presidency (although former President Khatami has also been urged to put his name forward) Mr. Rowhani may receive the enthusiastic backing of most Iranian reformers. If one were to rule out a violent regime change favored by the Neoconservatives, the election of a relatively moderate cleric who is familiar with the West and who has had a successful track record in dealing with it, particularly on the nuclear issue, would be the best possible option.
Farhang Jahanpour is a tutor at the Department of Continuing Education and a member of Kellogg College, University of Oxford, and a TFF Associate