A test of the resolve of Iranian President-elect Hassan Rouhani appears to be developing even before he takes office on 3 August.
While Rouhani has said one of the aims of his presidency would be to negotiate constructively with the West to ease tensions over the country’s nuclear program.
This has brought a positive response from some quarters in the United States with a series of prominent citizens and former lawmakers urging President Obama to re-engage with Iran after the change in leadership.
However, Iran Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei says that the US is “not to be trusted” and that he was “not optimistic” about any negotiations with the – a coded message to Rouhani not to push too hard for better relations with the country that conservative elements in Iran still refer to as “The Great Satan”.
While his opponents in the recent presidential poll were falling over themselves to show their allegiance to the Supreme Leader, Rouhani avoided the subject. He is said to favour an interpretation of the constitution whereby he represents the sovereignty of the people and the Supreme Leader represents the Sovereignty of God.
In a country where Islam is woven deeply into the fabric God’s representative has always had the final say, something the Ayatollah highlighted when he said he had “not in the past forbidden” outgoing President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to negotiate with the US and five other world powers over the issue of Iran’s “natural right” to enrich uranium for the peaceful use of nuclear energy.
Israel firmly believes that the object of the enrichment program is to produce a nuclear bomb to use against the Jewish State. Western countries claim past United Nations inspections have only seen the innocent side of the enrichment program and that more suspect nuclear facilities are being hidden – something that Iran denies.
In an article planted as an obvious hint to the international community, the English language Tehran Chronicle quoted Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi as saying that he hoped that the election of Rouhani would herald a new era of cooperation with Western nations.
This is a significant change from the hated rhetoric of the past when both Israel and Iran threatened to rain down destruction on each other with Obama repeatedly saying the military option was “not off the table”. It is to be hoped that Rouhani’s ascent to the leadership will present an opportunity for more constructive attitudes on all sides.