Since the conclusion of Iran’s presidential elections, some in the West believe that the newly elected President Hasan Rouhani is a “moderate” who will open the door for diplomacy and offer the best chance for a nuclear settlement with Tehran. It is time for a reality check.
Who really holds power in Iran? One needs look no further than the basic structure of the ruling regime in Tehran to get past the empty rhetoric and the hype surrounding Rouhani. The Supreme Leader, Ali Khamanei, has the final say in all matters of foreign policy, including the nuclear issue and continued support for the Assad regime in Syria. This fact was put on full display when Khamanei explicitly ordered Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to stay out of all nuclear matters. There is little doubt that Rouhani will face a similar rebuke if he strays from Khamanei’s line.
Simply said, even if Mahatma Gandhi had been elected president in Iran, little would change unless Khamenei gave the green light.
Even if we were to pretend that Rouhani’s election could have some effect on the political climate in Tehran, his background leaves little question as to who he really is and where he stands. Rouhani is a wily veteran of the regime, involved in the political and security apparatus of the Islamic Republic for almost 30 years.
In an interview with the Iranian newspaper Etemaad in 2011, Rouhani bragged that during his tenure as the regime’s nuclear negotiator he used diplomacy to buy the regime time to achieve its nuclear goals. The Telegraph quoted him as saying, “When we were negotiating with the Europeans in Tehran, we were still installing some of the equipment at the Isfahan site. There was plenty of work to be done to complete the site and finish the work there. In reality, by creating a tame situation, we could finish Isfahan.”
Rouhani is also a hawk when it comes to foreign policy, having served in various posts focused on armed forces, security and warfare and expressing his commitment to support the Assad regime.
The notion of appeasing so-called “moderate” elements of the Iranian regime is nothing new. It has been tried over and over again over the past 30 years by both Democrats and Republicans — to no avail. The fact is there is no “moderate” form of nuclear weapons, and that is what this regime is after, plain and simple.
Through more than a decade of negotiations, the regime has continually broken its word and refused to accept even the most generous of offers. This policy will not change anytime soon. Tehran cannot be negotiated with, nor will military strikes serve as a long-term solution for preventing it from acquiring nuclear weapons.
The option that must be embraced is neither war nor appeasement, but rather the support of true democratic change in Iran by the organized Iranian opposition. As Maryam Rajavi, the president-elect of the National Council of Resistance of Iran, articulated during the grand gathering of 100,000 supporters of the resistance in Paris on June 22, there are clear benchmarks for reform in Iran.
If Rouhani truly is a reformer and wants to make genuine change there are easy benchmarks to look to, as Rajavi said: “Without freedom of expression and human rights, and so long as political prisoners and activities of political parties are not free, and the regime’s belligerent policies in Syria and Iraq continue, and it insists on obtaining nuclear bombs, nothing would change.”
It is time that the policy makers heed the call by lawmakers from both sides of the aisle — including Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, chair of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Middle East and South Asia — who voted 400 to 20 to tighten the sanctions on Tehran, and put aside myths of moderation. It is time they stand with the Iranian people and their resistance. Now is not the time to relieve pressure and coddle mullahs in Iran.
It is time to intensify pressure and distance ourselves from such a despotic government. The West should stand with the Iranian people and the Iranian opposition led by the charismatic Rajavi. A democratic change in Iran is the only true means by which to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons.
Bahman Badiee is president of the Iranians Society of South Florida.