Beware of moderation. That’s one critical takeaway from the Iranian elections that produced a new president who’s being touted as a more “moderate” cleric. Everything, of course, is relative.
Hassan Rohani is still an insider among the Islamic revolutionary leaders that have ruled the country for nearly 35 years. He couldn’t have been on the ballot without the ideological and political credentials to pass muster with the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khameini.
It might be refreshing to witness a change from the belligerent Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the ideologue who called repeatedly for Israel’s destruction and denied the Holocaust. If Rohani is truly able to provide more freedoms that the Iranian people so desperately seem to want, all the better.
But does the president-elect’s change of tone signal a genuine shift, especially when it comes to Tehran’s rogue nuclear policy and support for international terrorism? Not likely.
He publicly declared his own conditions for improving ties with the United States in his first news conference this week: no interfering in Iran’s internal affairs; recognizing “all of the Iranian nation’s due rights, including nuclear rights”; and putting aside “oppressive” policies toward Iran.
As his country’s top nuclear negotiator in the early 2000s, Rohani presided over a freeze in uranium enrichment while secretly advancing the country’s nuclear program.
“While we were talking with the Europeans in Tehran, we were installing equipment in parts of the facility in Isfahan,” a crucial nuclear site, he boasted years later. “In fact, by creating a calm environment, we were able to complete the work in Isfahan.”
The United States and the West cannot afford to be fooled again by allowing negotiations to be a ruse for advancing Iran’s nuclear capability, which is already perilously close to becoming a fait accompli. The pressure of sanctions must continue, though their efficacy is increasingly being questioned.
It is not unreasonable for the Obama administration to be willing to hear out the new leadership. But it must make clear from the get-go that the military option is still on the table and that only a concrete proposal by Iran to end its enrichment program and open its facilities to inspection will alter the resolve of the international community.
Then there’s Iran’s terrorist tentacles that must also be confronted. Iran is waging a proxy war in Syria, assisting the regime of Hafez al-Assad to bolster its terrorist ally Hezbollah.
It’s hard to be optimistic that the dynamic with Iran will change with a new president. Let his deeds prove us wrong.