Earlier this month, Hassan Rouhani, 64, was sworn in as the seventh president of Iran in an inauguration ceremony held at the Iranian parliament in Tehran. Rouhani won the election to succeed outgoing president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Dr. Jonathan Miner, who teaches international law, Middle Eastern politics and other subjects in the University of North Georgia's Department of Political Science & International Affairs, talks about Rouhani and whether his election will mean changes within Iran or in the country's foreign relations.
Who is Hassan Rouhani?
Hassan Rouhani is a veteran of the 1979 Islamic Revolution that overthrew the Shah of Iran. A member of the inner circle since that time, Rouhani is a mid-level Shiite religious cleric within the ruling establishment, and has served as Iran's chief nuclear negotiator from 2003 to 2005 and the representative of the ruling elite on the Iran's National Security Council since 1989. In the 2013 presidential elections, Rouhani ran as a reformer and friend to the millions of Iranians upset with the problems in the Iranian economy and the international isolation brought on by the years of leadership of former president Ahmadinejad. Known as the "diplomat Sheik" in some Iranian media, Rouhani's election as president will likely "soften" Iran's public relations with the world.
Will his election mean any changes in Iran?
While President Rouhani will be the public face of Iranian politics to his people and the world, the president of Iran has never had the type of power we associate with the president of the United States or the prime minister of the United Kingdom. Since 1989, absolute power in Iran has been held by the Ayatollah Khamenei, the chief cleric in their theocratic system of government set up after the 1979 revolution. The Ayatollah and his Guardian Council screened 680 registered presidential candidates and chose six to run in the election, assuring that all who ran for president were acceptable to the religious leaders and illustrating how Iran's authoritarian system of government is run. The president of Iran does have significant influence in running the economy and as the official spokesperson in international diplomacy, and great hopes are building in Iran that Rouhani can adjust its economic course and relieve it of its international isolation.
What could this mean for relations between the United States and Iran?
It is likely the tone of U.S./Iranian relations will soften, but it remains unlikely that the substance of those relations will change in any material way. While a new president has been elected, the Ayatollah and governing regime remain in place, as do their earlier policies. As a former chief negotiator for Iran's nuclear program and a member of the elite inner circle, Rouhani has already stated his intention to continue prior policies and nuclear enrichment. The end of Ahmadinejad's term in office and his intentionally incendiary rhetoric does provide a chance for the two sides to seek dialogue and reduce some of the tension between the two countries, but it remains likely that these changes will be merely cosmetic and insignificant.