With the inauguration of Hassan Rouhani being closely preceded by last week’s vote by the House of Representatives to increase sanctions on Iran, the Iranian press spent much time debating the outlook for Iran’s foreign policy and the prospects for improved Iran-U.S. relations. Most outlets had praise for the new president’s skills in foreign policy, and expected his moderate approach to represent Iran’s case well to the rest of the world, but most also complained about the influence of extremist and “anti-Iranian” elements in the United States.
Praising Rouhani’s expertise, Ali Nazari in the reformist Etemaad wrote, “Rouhani can protect our nuclear technology and installations from harm and aggression through his unique management and planning experience as a chief nuclear negotiator to not only preserve Iran’s political position but to strengthen it in the international community.” Similarly, Kayhan Barzegar told Bahar in an interview that Rouhani, and his nominee for foreign minister, the former UN Ambassador Mohammad Javad Zarif, both have the experience and knowledge to give Iran the best chance to succeed in its foreign relations. He noted that they face a difficult task though: “The principal challenge is how to navigate between the domestic restrictions and demands for the advancement of the nuclear program and the exigent demands of the West, in particular the Americans, which are growing day after day.” Sadegh Zibakalam wrote in Bahar that it may be an opportune time to revisit the question of why Iran has an antagonistic relationship with the United States, and questioned whether hardliners urge a refusal to engage seriously with Washington only out of entrenched dogma.
However, many observers expressed skepticism that any Iranian diplomatic overtures would meet with receptive reactions from Washington. Ali Vadaye wrote in the moderate Mardom Salari that although there is unprecedented hope of diplomatic breakthrough due to Rouhani, “extremists” – namely, the Republicans, pro-Zionist lobbies, and Israel – are determined to prevent this from happening. He argued, “The Republicans know that if the key to relations with Iran is unlocked, they will see a Democratic victory in upcoming elections… For more than a month, Tel Aviv, in the occupied territories, has been unable to close its eyes due to the nightmare of Hassan Rouhani.” He did add that extremists in Iran present another constraint on Rouhani as well. In Tehran-e Emrooz, Hassan Hanizadeh argued that the United States was politically divided, limiting Obama’s ability to embrace the political opening presented by Rouhani’s election: “Although White House officials have been showing more willingness to join in the moderation that has been shown by Iran and have expressed readiness for dialogue with Iran, with the recent decisions by Congress to deepen the sanctions regime against Iran, it appears that the White House is running into problems in its attempts to finalize its Iran policy due to redoubled opposition from the anti-Iranian members of Congress, who have extremely close ties to the Zionist lobbies.” This view was driven home by a Jomhouri Eslami editorial whose title, “AIPAC-rica,” clearly showed who the paper viewed as being behind Congress’s anti-Iran actions.
In hardline papers, there was less nuance and more of a sense that Rouhani should not expect to be given any room by the United States and thus must act defiantly in his foreign policy. Two editorials in Kayhan from the past week exemplify this view. Mohammad Imani wrote of a media campaign in the West to portray the United States as a seeker of peace and Iran as an intransigent aggressor, in spite of continued American actions like the sanctions vote. Hossein Shamsian agreed, saying that the eventual approval of the bill by the Senate and by Obama was guaranteed if history is any guide, which only makes it clearer that, “From an enemy like America, nothing other than further animosity and crimes can be expected. This is in America’s nature and expecting a change in America’s behavior due to political changes and the transfer of power in our country or in America is naïve and delusional.”
APPENDIX: Translated Summaries of Selected Opinion Pieces (Newest to Oldest)
Foreign policy analyst Barzegar tells the reformist daily Bahar that the top issues facing Iran in foreign policy are the needs to remove sanctions and to improve Iran’s relations with its neighbors. He writes that the nomination of Mohammad Javad Zarif as Foreign Minister is a good move by Hassan Rouhani, given Zarif’s in-depth knowledge of the West and, in particular, the United States, and that it improves Iran’s reasonable chances of reaching an agreement that will lift sanctions. However, he notes that domestic and external concerns will conspire to make this a very difficult balancing act for Zarif. “The principal challenge is how to navigate between the domestic restrictions and demands for the advancement of the nuclear program and the exigent demands of the West, in particular the Americans, which are growing day after day.”
Hanizadeh writes that despite Iran’s desire to show greater transparency in its nuclear program and to foster “positive engagement” with foreign nations, the United States is sending mixed signals that will inhibit Iran’s ability to solve its dispute with the West. “Although recently, after the Iranian presidential election that it is said will make the Islamic Republic’s foreign policy more moderate than before, it appears that the different centers of decision-making in America are not unified on Iran. Although White House officials have been showing more willingness to join in the moderation that has been shown by Iran and have expressed readiness for dialogue with Iran, with the recent decisions by Congress to deepen the sanctions regime against Iran, it appears that the White House is running into problems in its attempts to finalize its Iran policy due to redoubled opposition from the anti-Iranian members of Congress, who have extremely close ties to the Zionist lobbies.”
Vadaye writes in the moderate daily Mardom Salari that this is a time of unprecedented hope for an improvement in relations between the West and Iran, but that extremists on both sides are seeking to block any progress in this regard. He writes that “many nations of the world” are waiting for a diplomatic breakthrough, and even President Obama would like to work for an agreement in the wake of Rouhani’s victory, although his hands have been tied by domestic opposition. “In the White House, the black president wants to make history. Obama is determined to suspend hostile sanctions against Iran in favor of the opening of an Iranian embassy in Washington but the warmongering Republicans, alongside the Zionist lobbies like AIPAC and J Street, are fear-stricken by this possibility. The Republicans know that if the key to relations with Iran is unlocked, they will see a Democratic victory in upcoming elections.” He argues that the Israelis are also trying to prevent any diplomatic progress, fearful that Rouhani will make Washington less hawkish on Iran. “For more than a month, Tel Aviv, in the occupied territories, has been unable to close its eyes due to the nightmare of Hassan Rouhani.” He also notes that its possible the Russians and Chinese are hoping for no progress to be made between Iran and the West – and Europe in particular. That said, while there are extremists outside of Iran working against Rouhani, he writes, there are also extremists within Iran trying to hold back his moderate agenda, noting that some have reacted with anger to the president’s proposed list of cabinet ministers, and seem to want him to forego national unity in favor of having only a cabinet of a single viewpoint. Citing the increasing economic hardship in Iran, he asks, “Now, the question is whether the hardliners would like to learn their lessons from the current situation and correct their behavior?!”
In the hardline daily Kayhan, Mohammad Imani writes that signals from the United States indicate that there is no welcome coming from the West for the new Iranian president. He cites many American conservative media outlets’ comments that Rouhani should not be considered a moderate as an example of the cold welcome. He also notes that official gestures show that the Americans and their allies have no plans to work with Iran. Citing reports indicating that no major English or European official was at Rouhani’s inauguration, leading sources like the Guardian and Le Monde to make reference to the “cold reception” of the West, he questions why the reception has been so poor. “Why did [the media] highlight the statement of a quarter of the House of Representatives (130 members), supposedly ‘recommending’ a deferral of sanctions, but essentially censor mentions of the approval of new oil sanctions from 400 members of the very same body, and deny this to their audience?! Is the treacherous role of these outlets any less than that of the BBC or VOA?!” He argues that the propaganda campaign designed to show the West as peaceful and Iran as aggressive continues even with the Rouhani presidency underway – and thus Rouhani must be vigilant and avoid showing any weakness.