Op-Ed

Iran’s Election:
An Omen for Renewed Nuclear Threat.

by Probir Kumar Sarkar.

The moderate Mr. Hassan Rohani’s landslide victory in the recent Iranian Presidential election was less eventful than his predecessor Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s in 2009. Though the new election does not indicate the Iranian theocracy will turn into a democracy overnight, the new president might adopt a less incendiary tone in negations with the West than his firebrand former, Mr. Ahmadinejad.

In this election, Iranian voters prioritized their own interests without supporting or pursuing a path that jeopardizes their livelihood. This attitude was also evident in the Iranian Green movement, which disapproved of Ahmadinejad’s adventurism with slogans such as, “Not Gaza, not Lebanon, my life is only for Iran.” The same notion was reflected in the recent presidential ballot box.

There is no doubt that the theocratic mullah-ruled Iran has come to be the main generator and instigator of instability in the Middle East. Thus it is bad news for the world that they already have 180 kilograms of 20 percent enriched uranium, and their facilities are producing at an ever increasing rate. Even if the new leader adopts a softer tone than his predecessor, he will not deviate from the Supreme Leader’s line of developing nuclear arms to gain international leverage.

In the current stakes, taking over the Iranian presidency will be as much a challenge tackling domestic woes as dealing with Ahmadinejad’s foreign relations fallout. Enduring decades of international economic sanctions and quelling internal political strife and regional dissidence, Iran’s distressed economy has pushed forty percent of Iranians below the poverty line. There is a staggering shortage of basic goods and employment.

Mr. Rohani, a figure known to many in the West, was the most reformist candidate, and won the election with the overwhelming backing of the voters. His election triumph was finally hailed by the Supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, when Rohani outpaced his opponents by a wide margin and it became politically impossible to alter the outcome, even if most ruling clerics and the powerful revolutionary guard had wanted to temper with the elections.

The new President, a 64-year-old cleric characterized as a combination of conservative and reformist, will not seek fundamental changes in Iran’s ruling power structure like his predecessor. Rohani is not the first Iranian moderate to win the presidency, however. Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani was also described as a moderate, but his track record showed a serious involvement in the state-sponsored terrorist plots during his eight-year reign.

Rohani, a loyal servant of the Islamic Republic, joined the Islamic Revolution of 1979 in Iran, banding with the first supreme leader, Ayatollah Ruholla Khomeini, the founder of the Islamic Republic, to oust Iran’s then ruler, Reza Shah Pahlavi. He served more than a decade as Secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council and was later elevated to Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator who dealt with the U.S. and the other western diplomats for Iran’s foreign policy negotiations.

The historical path of the Islamic Republic suggests the new President will bring little change beyond more carefully choosing rhetoric for both Iran’s nuclear program and its support for the embattled Assad regime in Syria. Mr Rohani is expected to re-engage in negotiations with the West in order to ease sanctions but simultaneously buy time to slowly but surely produce a bomb. In this calculation, Iran’s new President could be an advantage for Iran while a trap for the West.

World politics has been shifting course, and Western policy on Iran is losing its ground in favor of Iran even though there is no indication from Tehran’s ruling circle that Iran will shed its nuclear ambitions. At this point, the West hopes to re-engage in a dialogue with Iran that was scuttled during the tenure of clown-villain leader Mr. Ahmadinejad. Iran is still a powerful state in comparison to its neighbors and would forcefully maintain regional hegemony with nuclear weapons in its arsenal.

If Mr. Rohani can rally support of the clerics behind him and maintain the interests of Iran’s military and security forces, his chances of reaching a negotiated settlement with the West is somewhat possible. But there is little evidence that he has the authority to accomplish much without the Supreme Leader’s approval.

According to Western intelligence sources, Iran is only months away from assembling a full-scale nuclear device. And thus the danger lurks. More determined political will would be required among the western powers to prevent creating a nuclear Iran.

Mr. Sarkar is a senior international journalist who studied U.S. Foreign Policy and International Security at Cambridge. He is the Executive Editor of The Global Intelligence.

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