Iran’s new president hails ‘victory of moderation’

Reuters reports: Moderate cleric Hassan Rohani won Iran’s presidential election on Saturday with a resounding defeat of conservative hardliners, calling it a victory of moderation over extremism and pledging a new tone of respect in international affairs.

Though thousands of jubilant Iranians poured onto the streets in celebration of the victory, the outcome will not soon transform Iran’s tense relations with the West, resolve the row over its nuclear program or lessen its support of Syria’s president in the civil war there – matters of national security that remain the domain of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

But the president runs the economy and wields broad influence in decision-making in other spheres. Rohani’s resounding mandate could provide latitude for a diplomatic thaw with the West and more social freedoms at home after eight years of belligerence and repression under President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who was legally barred from seeking a third consecutive term.

“This victory is a victory of wisdom, a victory of moderation, a victory of growth and awareness and a victory of commitment over extremism and ill-temper,” Rohani told state television, promising to work for all Iranians, including the hardline so-called “Principlists” whom he defeated at the poll.

“I warmly shake the hands of all moderates, reformists and Principlists,” he said.

The mid-ranking cleric seemed to strike a new tone in the way he talked about Iran’s relations with the rest of the world.

Rohani said there was a new chance “in the international arena” for “those who truly respect democracy and cooperation and free negotiation”.

Celebrating crowds sprang up near Rohani’s headquarters in downtown Tehran and across the city and country as his victory was confirmed.

Barbara Slavin writes: It is too soon to say whether the election results — which gave Rouhani 18.6 million of the 37 million votes cast — will cause a swift change in Iranian policy or negotiating strategy. However, the poor showing for more conservative candidates — particularly current chief nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili, who came in third — is too strong a signal for Iran’s leader to ignore.

By entering the race, Jalili insured that the nuclear issue — which is normally taboo for public debate in Iran — would be discussed during the brief campaign. In a final televised debate a week before the elections, the other candidates harshly criticized Jalili’s stewardship of talks with the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany (P5+1).

Former Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Velayati, who might resume that post under Rouhani, was scathing:

“You want to take three steps and you expect the other side to take 100 steps, this means that you don’t want to make progress,” he said. “This is not diplomacy. … We can’t expect everything and give nothing.”

During the campaign, Rouhani repeatedly noted the connection between the lack of agreement on the nuclear front and Iran’s deteriorating economy. It was nice that more centrifuges are spinning, he said, but it would be better if they were gears in Iran’s shuttered factories.

Ali Vaez, Iran analyst for the International Crisis Group, told Al-Monitor in an email “the nuclear issue became — by design or accident — a central theme in the elections. As such, the outcome will inevitably impact the country’s nuclear policy.”

Vaez added, “The electoral defeat of Saeed Jalili and his narrative cannot be inconsequential. Khamenei’s bottom lines — recognition of Iran’s right to domestic enrichment and removal of sanctions — are unlikely to change. But Iran’s approach to nuclear diplomacy will.”

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