WASHINGTON, DC – On June 17, at his first press conference as Iran’s President-elect, Hassan Rowhani broke little new ground in the Islamic Republic’s relations with the West. On nuclear policy, he said that the “era of suspension is over”: Iran will not accept the suspension of uranium enrichment in upcoming negotiations but will seek to make its nuclear activities more transparent in order to build international confidence. Moreover, Iran would welcome direct negotiations with the United States if the US stopped attempting to meddle in Iran’s internal affairs and abandoned its “bullying attitude.”
None of these statements is new. Does that mean that the world should not expect meaningful change in Iran’s official behavior following Rowhani’s victory?
The general impression before the election was that Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Hosseini Khamenei, supported either Saeed Jalili or Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf. In recent years, Jalili has been the leading Iranian representative in international negotiations over the country’s nuclear program. That made him the main target of criticism by Rowhani and another candidate, Ali Akbar Velayati, Khamenei’s adviser on international affairs.
According to Rowhani and Velayati, while Iran in recent years has increased the number of centrifuges in use in its nuclear research program, the cost has been an economically devastating array of international sanctions. Rowhani promised to sustain progress on the nuclear program while adopting stronger and wiser diplomatic measures to prevent the imposition of new sanctions and pave the way for lifting the existing ones.