Rouhani's Foreign Policy

How to Work With Iran's Pragmatic New President

Iranian President-elect Hassan Rohani speaks with the media during a news conference in Tehran June 17, 2013. Majid Hagdost / Courtesy Reuters

Supporters praise President-elect Hassan Rouhani as a champion of change. His detractors, meanwhile, see him as a shrewd apparatchik, a status quo figure determined to buy time for Iran to become a nuclear power. The reality is more complex.

When I first interviewed him in Tehran in the mid-1990s for a research project I was conducting about the Rafsanjani presidency, I found him to be intelligent, cunning, self-assured, and cautious with words. For a man of the cloth, his answers to my questions were non-ideological. Then, as now, he was pragmatic -- someone with whom one could do business.

He won the presidency precisely because he promised to bring a measure of rationality to Iran’s chaotic politics. He pledged to improve Iran’s deteriorating economic condition, respect human rights, release political prisoners, and replace Ahmadinejad’s confrontational foreign policy with one of reengagement with the world.

Rouhani is

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