New President, Same Iran?
by Hiwa Osman

The United States, Britain and their Western allies appear to have taken a collective sigh of relief following the landslide victory of moderate Hassan Rouhani in Iran’s presidential election.

The Western powers are clinging to the sliver of hope that Rouhani, 62, will address Western and regional concerns about Iran's controversial nuclear program, which has been a serious international headache for years. They also would like to see him improve political and human rights.

But the West is failing to understand Rouhani’s standing and power inside the core establishment: Among the Islamic Republic’s most important institutions, where sensitive issues and policies are handled, Rouhani is a virtual outsider.

Moreover, the West should remember that Rouhani is not the first reformist to be elected president.

Mohammad Khatami, a moderate who enjoyed much greater public support and power than Rouhani, did not make any significant headway in Iranian politics before stepping down after his eight-year term in 2005. All Khatami was able to do was to appease the West for the duration of his presidency.

Iran’s outgoing President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad enjoyed much greater influence than Khatami – and that Rouhani is likely to have – because he was part of the hard-line core of the Islamic Republic.

Unless the West absolutely insists on Iran addressing all important issues of international concern, Rouhani will end up becoming the international face of the Islamic Republic, while the real decisions are elsewhere.

Perhaps the only rational comment on the election came from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who urged continued international pressure on Iran to curb its nuclear program. “The international community must not give in to wishful thinking or temptation and loosen the pressure on Iran for it to stop its nuclear programme," he told his cabinet.

Iran tends to oscillate between reformists and hardliners, but as long as there are no real elections in the country, Iran remains Iran.

America does not seem to understand this, but Russia does. Russian President Vladimir Putin has urged expanded ties with Iran’s new administration.

As for the Kurds, Iraq and Syria, there is very little hope for change because the centers that make decisions on these issues are not affected by elections.