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07/29/13

Iran: New President, New Hope?

By Omid Irani

As Hassan Rouhani awaits to be sworn in as Iran’s seventh president, the world anxiously anticipates to see if the ever-mounting tides of mistrust and deception between Iran and the West can be placated with this man’s relatively surprising victory. Throngs of optimistic statesmen and lawmakers, namely American legislators, have expressed their desire to reengage Iran in negotiations on a multitude of hot-button issues which encompass mutual interests for both the United States and Iran now that Mr. Ahmadinejad’s brash tenure is drawing to a close in favor of a seemingly more moderate president. Pressing President Obama, high-profile Senators and Congressmen have come together from both political parties and joined forces in hopes of convincing the White House to open a bilateral channel of dialogue with the moderate Rouhani in hopes of reducing more than three decades of complimentary animosity and helping resolve some of the region’s most pervasive and prevalent issues. Yet, if history is a harbinger for what is to come, the world need not be overly optimistic of cozier Iran-American relations.

The June elections were a signal from voters in Iran to the wider world that they wish to shed their pariah-like billing and improve relations with the international community in an effort to live a less isolated and more dignified life. Whether the extension of this olive branch by Iranians will be reciprocated by Washington is yet to be seen, however, the unceasing cacophony of iniquitous American demands directed toward Iran will surely continue as they have so often in the past. History has proven that irrespective of Iran’s leadership, policies, or agendas, the United States has long been painting a picture in the Persian Gulf region and the wider Middle East that is notably absent of any significant Iranian influence or inclusion.

Iranian society is highly educated, extremely resilient and meticulously calculated in their public dealings. Consequently, having willfully bypassed another four years of ideologically conservative leadership which promised to fearlessly stand up to the perceived imperialistic practices of the United States in favor of a more measured voice should welcome further inquiry as it pertains to deciphering what kind of message a population of 80 million people are trying to convey to the rest of the world. Mr. Rouhani’s ascension to Iran’s office of presidency marks a new chapter trying to be written by those who have felt so brutally victimized in the decades-long battle of principles between Iran and the United States. It is not too often a society as proud and historically rich as Iran presents such potentially inviting terms of reconciliations to those who they so strongly feel encroach on their ability to lead a decent and uninterrupted lifestyle. As a matter of political aptitude, President Obama and his foreign policy team must devise significantly new strategies while simultaneously disengaging from old talking points in hopes of reviving a once strong and amicable partnership with the Middle Eastern hegemon.

President Obama has already committed one of the earliest possible diplomatic missteps further underscoring how little the United States values the normalization of ties with Iran. An astute aficionado of international relations between the two countries would be hard-pressed not to ask why the American President did not personally congratulate President-elect Rouhani after his free and fair electoral victory. After all, the White House itself institutionally endorsed the validity of the outcome by issuing a press release which in part read, “We respect the vote of the Iranian people and congratulate them for their participation in the political process.” If there was never a public American question about Iran’s transparency pertaining to the voting process and the result thereof, why was President Obama so reluctant to attach his name to the congratulatory message put out by the White House? Is the potential of fostering a relationship with Iran any less important than that of Egypt’s, which yielded a rather surprising phone call from President Obama to then-President Morsi, a representative of the Muslim Brotherhood, an organization many people vigorously advocate to be blacklisted as a terrorist organization?

If the White House wishes to truly rehabilitate the United States’ image in Iran with hopes of one day reestablishing ties, several relatively easy, yet politically daring, initiatives must be undertaken by President Obama and his administration. Having already missed the opportunity to commend President Rouhani on his victory in the days following the election, President Obama should extend his personal congratulatory wishes as a fellow democratically elected leader to his Iranian counterpart upon his inauguration date. Having broken the diplomatic ice with such a move, the appropriate subsequent course of action would be to coordinate a face-to-face meeting between the two presidents soon thereafter when the United Nations convenes for the 68th General Assembly session. Through these two rudimentary good-will gestures, Iran’s leadership and citizens will have the opportunity to look at the United States as a partner they can respectfully and comfortably sit down to negotiate with and have open dialogues instead of worrying about immunizing themselves from further American belligerence.

With respect to policy advancement, the Obama administration must ease its restrictions on Iran’s banking sector in an effort to alleviate the financial burden being felt by average Iranians who have fallen victim to the continuous bickering between the two countries. Recent news of the Treasury Department’s decision to relieve pressure on Iran’s suffering medical sector by allowing electrocardiography and dialysis equipment to be sold without a license will surely be met with a warm reception by Iranians. Many patients who have been so desperate to receive adequate care for their illnesses will certainly appreciate this kind gesture. While this pronouncement is extremely accommodating to a specific segment of Iranian society, there is unfortunately so much more that needs to be done in order to revitalize the collectively damaged Iranian psyche with respect to the United States. The perpetual imposition of sanctions, which continues to consistently plague the lives of ordinary civilians in Iran, has severely hampered chances of evoking sympathy and forgiveness toward the United States for their ineffably destructive policies. Such draconian sanctions have brought about tremendous economic grief within Iran, which is reeling from skyrocketing unemployment, rising inflation and a depreciating currency value. Many in Iran rightfully question the motives of the United States when they see policies being implemented that unequivocally infringe on their ability to live a wholesome and fulfilling lifestyle.

President-elect Rouhani ran his campaign on a political platform which comprised of a two-pronged approach that would help restore Iranian confidence domestically and standing abroad. Through the stabilization of diplomatic ties with the United States will, in his calculations, yield him his second campaign promise of a stronger and more vibrant Iranian economy. Mr. Rouhani’s deliberately gauged viewpoints presented him as the obvious foil to his successor’s brazen policies, thus garnering himself a mandate to move forward with his key ideological stances that he hopes will catapult Iran up and out of the present conundrum it currently finds itself in. Mr. Rouhani is precisely the leader who can bridge the ever-growing gap between Iran and the United States, provided the latter acts in good faith and does not wish to further subvert the reconciliatory approach of Iran’s incoming president.

For all the mistrust that emanates both from Tehran and Washington, there is still a bright spot within this ostensibly nonexistent relationship. In fact, there is a long historical list containing a wide range of commonalities with which both nations, that are seemingly at odds on every subject, have cooperated together in the past and still continue to do so. Matters highlighting said list include, but are not limited to, the mutual desire to empower a stable and secure Iraq, harsh and strategic crackdowns on rampant drug trafficking originating from the Afghan opium fields which fund global terrorism, as well as the long-waged battle against Al-Qaeda’s elusive leadership. Recognizing these points of agreement could become the lynchpin in devising a systematic blueprint whereby President Rouhani and President Obama can come together and work genuinely with each other in good faith as a means of advancing such measures for possible rapprochement in the future.

Rouhani’s election demonstrated Iranians’ willingness to elect a leader who is both receptive and mollifying enough to engage with the West on a plethora of issues. Through a respected democratic process, Iranians have opened the door to President Obama and are eagerly waiting to see if the reciprocal behavior from the United States will be one that is less aggressive and more pragmatic than those in the past. For the sake of all parties involved, let’s hope cooler heads prevail and wish recent history is wrong when it comes to what Iran should be expecting in return for its judicious gesture.

Omid Irani is a student at Seton Hall University pursuing a major in Political Science and a minor in History. He has written several articles analyzing Iran’s nuclear issue with respect to U.S. and international sanctions thereon and focuses on matters pertaining to Iran holistically. He can be reached at Omid484@aol.com

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