The international press carefully monitors the movements which are permanently made on the Middle East chessboard. First there is the issue of the civil war in Syria, where one expects the Geneva -2 meeting, the subject of an agreement between USA and Russia. The F-16 planes sent by the USA to Jordan for a joint exercise codenamed ‘Eager Lyon’- will extend their stay to the area, together with the ‘Patriot’ batteries deployed to the same country, a move which raised the suspicion of Moscow, which suspects the intention to form a ‘no-fly zone’ in Syria. Furthermore, ‘The Washington Post’ published Friday an article signed by former dignitaries and congressmen supporting the Bush administration (including Stephen Hudley, former advisor on national security) who call on the USA to give an urgent answer to Iran’s nuclear ambitions and, in the same context, “to strengthen its position and credibility across the Middle East to change the calculus of Iran’s leaders.
The Obama administration’s recent reengagement on Arab-Israeli peace represents a valuable step, but others are needed – in particular, much more decisive action to hasten the end of the Assad regime in Syria”. The recent decision of President Obama, which takes into consideration the finding that the Assad regime used chemical weapons against the Syrian opposition, to provide small arms and ammunition to the opposition, so it can resist, is evaluated by Fareed Zacharia, a reputed American expert, as a “risky decision – too little to have a real impact and enough to commit the United States in a complex civil war.”
In a separate move, Iran held presidential elections on Friday, whose winner was known after the first round, as he had more than half of the ballots. The presidential elections of this country have a particularity, as all the candidates must be endorsed by a council established by the theocratic regime and, ultimately, by the supreme leader Ali Khamenei, who was not elected democratically himself. Out of the five candidates, the winner was a moderate cleric, Hassan Rohwani, which came as a surprise, because others were considered closer to the political views of the supreme leader. Electors thus preferred Rohwani, whose programme is favourable to a ‘constructive commitment’ and ‘reconciliation’ with the West. Among the positions of Rohwani that appealed to an electorate of over 40 million (the turnout was above 70 pc) were those in defence of women arrested by police for not wearing headscarves in public, or those against restricting the use of the internet. According to a blog of ‘The American Interest’ magazine (Walter Russell Mead), the new Iranian president “appeals to more middle class and educated voters. These voters by and large can be among the most pro-American people in the Middle East (a competition that is not hard to win) and care more about ending the standoff with the West than having a nuclear bomb”. Other articles, too, believe that the moderate position of the new president is good omen for an evolution in the Middle East.
But are these hopes justified (some American experts go as far as to say that now is the turn of the USA to make a move of openness towards Tehran)? Rohwani was a close aide of the leader of the Iranian theocratic revolution, Ayatollah Khomeini, whom he accompanied in exile to France, for 16 years he was the secretary of the Supreme National Security Council, which monitored the nuclear programme, and also was Iran’s negotiator in this dossier with the ‘5+1 Group’. It is true that, in this last position, he proved certain flexibility, allowing a stricter international monitoring of the nuclear programme of Tehran. Anyway, the new president clearly is a partisan of the nuclear programme, but seems more inclined to conciliation and compromise, thus opening a window of opportunity for negotiations and possible agreements that will ease the tension at regional scale. One must not forget, however, that the evolutions of Iran in the nuclear dossier – hence in the negotiations with the international community over observing the stipulations of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty which Tehran is part of – are obviously the exclusive decision of the supreme leader. The ‘moderate’ image of Rohwani can also have another facet, revealed by a column published recently by ‘The Jerusalem Post’: “The election of Rohani makes the job of those who are working to prevent Iran from attaining nuclear weapons much harder. Whereas Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (former president) was candid and outspoken in his hatred of both the West and the Jewish state, Rohani is likely to attempt to exploit his ‘moderate’ image and his popular mandate to advance Iranian interests, particularly the ending of Iran’s international isolation.”
Set aside any interpretation of what will happen in the closer or farther future, the presidential elections held Friday in Iran showed something that must be taken into consideration both in this country and at the scale of the international community. The new president clearly has the reputation of a ‘moderate’, compared to some of his electoral rivals, also to his predecessor. The fact that a ‘moderate’ won the presidential elections in the first round proves an orientation of the electorate that must not be underestimated. The majority of Iranians thus prefers an evolution without excesses, with a moderate political stance both at home and abroad. Some analysts even commented that the 51 percents won by the new president last Friday should be added to the 16 percents granted by the electorate to the mayor of Tehran, appreciated as a good manager, although his past connects him to the conservative circles. A wide majority of the Iranian nation is thus willing to see a gradual change that avoids excesses and promotes moderation and the good management of public affairs.
Practically, the main topic debated by analysts in the international press after Friday’s elections in Iran is whether the new president will continue to represent a regime that supports in Syria the Assad regime to withstand the national uprising and makes steps towards obtaining the nuclear weapon, or – on the contrary – he will be a true ‘moderate’ capable to address the expectations of the electorate, to whom the international community must grant the due credit.
Without doubt, this question will soon receive an answer.