Thursday August 1, 2013
As Hassan Rouhani approaches his inauguration this weekend, there is self-referential optimism in Western policy circles about what his accession might portend. A substantial quorum in these circles sees Rouhani as perhaps someone with whom the West—to recall Margaret Thatcher’s 1984 assessment of rising Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev—“can do business.”
The traits these observers cite to justify their optimism—Rouhani’s deep knowledge of the nuclear file, his history of seeking creative diplomatic solutions, an easier rhetorical style for Westerners than outgoing President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, fluency in English—are real.
But the focus on them suggests that Western elites still look for Tehran to accommodate the West’s nuclear demands—above all, by compromising Iran’s right, as a sovereign state and signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, to enrich uranium indigenously under safeguards. This motivates them to interpret Rouhani’s election as evidence of Iranians’ growing weariness with sanctions and, by extension, with their government’s policies that prompt escalating international pressure on Iran’s economy.