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Rouhani is a former Iranian nuclear negotiator with close ties to the Supreme Leader.

Iranian Election Analysis

Two weeks ago, Hassan Rouhani was elected the next president of Iran. Though Rouhani has been dubbed a “moderate,” his election highlights how restrictive the choices are for the citizens of Iran. Out of the 700 individuals who entered their name in the race, Khamenei rejected nearly 99% of them. The remaining candidates who were permitted to run were loyal followers of Khamenei’s regime and interpretation of Islam.

Rouhani is a former nuclear negotiator and has a longstanding relationship with the Supreme Leader. He is firmly entrenched within the Iranian political establishment. And though the Iranian people elected him in large part because of his platform of improved relations with the West, Rouhani takes a dangerous stance on Iran’s nuclear program.

In fact, Rouhani encourages Iran’s strides toward attaining a nuclear weapon, and has even touted negotiations with the West as a tactic to buy time to advance the nuclear program. In 2003 negotiations led by Rouhani with the EU-3, made up of France, Germany and Great Britain, Iran agreed to suspend the nuclear program, but in fact continued to make advancements. In a 2006 speech, Rouhani said of the earlier talks that while “negotiating with the Europeans in Tehran, we were installing equipment at the Isfahan site.”

Furthermore, Rouhani’s new position as Iran’s president, regardless of his political leanings, likely means very little for the decision-making process on Iran’s part. The Supreme Leader has complete control over Iran’s nuclear policy, meaning that even if Rouhani sought to shift Iran’s nuclear policy he would be unable to do so. And Supreme Leader Khamenei has given no indication that he is ready to relinquish his absolute control.

Under his control, Khamenei has had a track record of bringing nuclear talks and then using the talks as cover to allow his nuclear program to grow. Over the last ten years, beginning with the 2003 talks with the EU-3, Supreme Leader Khamenei has used multiple rounds of negotiations to stall for time and advance his nuclear ambitions. In 2006, he rejected a major package of economic and security incentives offered by the P5+1. Then again, in 2009, he declined an offer to have a portion of Iran’s low-enriched uranium processed outside the country for use in the Tehran Research Reactor. Two years later in 2011 the Iranian government refused to even discuss its nuclear program. And recent talks with the P5+1 in 2013 have similarly yielded no results.

The Iranian people elected Rouhani in large measure because they believed his platform of improved relations with the West would help to loosen the economic sanctions currently on Iran. However, it is only when Tehran takes concrete and verified steps to suspend its nuclear program that the international community should begin to consider sanctions relief. Iran cannot be allowed to advance its nuclear program while using negotiations as a delaying tactic. Until that time, the United States should maintain a steady policy that couples a genuine willingness to negotiate with increased sanctions pressure—no matter how “moderate” the leader.