BERLIN – No one could have reckoned with Hassan Rowhani’s victory in Iran’s presidential election. Even Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei was probably more than a little surprised by Rowhani’s first-round victory, following a campaign that began with eight candidates. As a result, the negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program, as well as the civil war in Syria, may well take on a new dynamic. But that is how it is in the Middle East: you never know what lies around the corner.
This year marks the tenth anniversary of the launch, at the foreign-minister level, of negotiations between Iran and the European triumvirate of Germany, France, and the United Kingdom on Iran’s nuclear program. I was there, representing Germany; so was Rowhani, who led the Iranian delegation.
The talks have continued until today – in an expanded format that includes Germany and the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council (the P5+1) – without any tangible results. Now Rowhani returns to the risky business of Iran’s nuclear program, though this time as President. What can we – and he – expect?
Based on my personal experience, Rowhani is a polite and open character. Unlike outgoing President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, he surrounds himself with very skillful and experienced diplomats. But there should be no doubt that he is a man of the regime – a realist and moderate member of the Islamic Republic’s political elite – not a representative of the opposition. And, of course, he backs Iran’s nuclear program.