By: Caroline Cohn, National Iranian American Council (NIAC)
Washington, DC - Over eighty Congressional staffers gathered on Capitol Hill on Monday to attend the National Iranian American Council’s briefing, entitled “Iran's Election: A Game Changer for Nuclear Diplomacy and Human Rights?” The briefing was held to explain the implications of Hassan Rouhani’s recent election as Iran’s new president.
The briefing featured Sahar Namazikhah, an Iranian journalist and current Director of Iran Programs at George Mason University’s Center for Diplomacy and Conflict Resolution; Reza Marashi, the Research Director for the National Iranian American Council, who formerly served four years in the Office of Iranian Affairs at the U.S. Department of State; and NIAC Policy Director Jamal Abdi as moderator.
Namazikhah began by providing insight into Rouhani’s election, explaining that he received backing from reformists in Iran and relied on a strong youth turnout as well as votes from women and ethnic minorities. The panel then addressed some of the questions and skepticism that have been circulating-including among members of Congress-about whether Rouhani’s election will have any effect on Iran, either domestically or in terms of its foreign policy.
While the panelists acknowledged that ultimate decision-making authority still rests with Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, each also emphasized that as president, Rouhani will have the power to shape policy decisions.
Marashi explained that Mr. Rouhani will have the authority to appoint new people to key posts in the Iranian government, including a new nuclear negotiator, and he will be able to populate ministries and cabinets with officials more likely to be open to reform and moderation.
Namazikhah further suggested that the recent release of two prominent, Iranian female political prisoners is a positive sign about the direction things are going in Iran, and the direction Mr. Rouhani appears willing and able to take them. She was referring to Nasrin Sotoudeh, a human rights lawyer jailed in 2010 (declared a prisoner of conscience by Amnesty International) who was recently granted a furlough, and to Iranian journalist Jila Bani Yaghoub, whose release was honored upon expiration of her one-year sentence.
Finally, in response to concerns that have arisen about Rouhani’s close ties to the Supreme Leader, Marashi emphasized that Iranian politicians are “not all cut from the same cloth.”
“Mr. Rouhani is a quintessential regime insider, and I know that that might cause some of the hairs on the backs of people’s necks to stand up,” Marashi said, “but I think it also goes to show...that Iran has politics, and the system itself, though far from perfect, is not monolithic.”Furthermore, Marashi noted that Rouhani’s ability to deliver on his campaign promises may be greater than that of previous reformist politicians in Iran because he is in fact a centrist who has good relations with conservatives and with the Supreme Leader yet won the election with strong reformist support.
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