When it comes to government-sanctioned atrocities against Americans, most in our country have a long and vivid memory. And so it is with the United States’ strained relations with Iran, the nation best known for holding 52 Americans captive for 444 days and for personifying our country as “The Great Satan.”
In the 32 years since the end of the hostage crisis, the deep and profound wounds it inflicted have not healed. Both the secular and more powerful religious leaders of the theocratic state of about 80 million people continue to spew anti-American venom and anti-Western broadsides in liberal doses.
Over the past four years, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has carried on the anti-Western credo that has guided the state since the revolution of 1979 that overthrew Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi and transformed Iran into an irate Islamic state. As that state has matured, it also has taunted the world and snubbed international law with its nuclear plans, further alienating it from peace-loving states around the globe.
A NEW ERA?
Given that pessimistic and bleak backdrop, last week’s election of moderate candidate Hassan Rowhani as Iran’s new president gives cause for cautious – extremely cautious – optimism that a new era in Iranian politics, human rights and international relations may be dawning.
Unlike Ahmadinejad and his predecessors, Rowhani sounds a surprisingly conciliatory tone toward America and the West. On the nation’s icy relations with the U.S., Rowhani this week said, “It is an old wound that needs to be healed. … The new government feels that a new opportunity arises to have dialogue with the world.”
The leader who will take office in August also vows to fix the nation’s battered economy, address its human-rights atrocities and work toward ending international sanctions.
In response, the White House has called Rowhani’s election “a potentially hopeful sign.” President Barack Obama wisely has chosen not to consider lifting economic sanctions against Iran until the nation takes “significant steps” to prove it is not pursuing nuclear weapons.
The president is absolutely correct in guarding his optimism. Despite his outward veneer of an agent of positive change, Rowhani carries heavy baggage filled with some of the same despicable anti-Western gear of his predecessors. Consider:
To many voters, Rowhani was considered the “best of the worst” of six candidates in the field. Other more tolerant and progressive reformist candidates were banished from the ballot last month by the more powerful Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
Rowhani has made it clear he will not allow the U.S. or other Western nations to meddle in Iran’s ability to pursue nuclear options. He also strongly reiterated Iran’s refusal to halt uranium enrichment as the United Nations Security Council has demanded.
He is a conservative cleric with long-standing loyalties to the religious hierarchy.
Nonetheless, there is at least a slither of hope for optimism, given Rowhani’s softer tone and the Iranian citizenry’s strong mandate for moderation by choosing him in Saturday’s election.
His ascension to power gives the United States, Israel and the world community the best opportunity in over three decades to negotiate with Iran to abandon its nuclear-weapon agenda, to halt its human-rights abuses and to become a more responsible player on the world stage.
That’s an opportunity Obama and other world leaders should grasp onto with guarded gusto.