Millennium Post

Iran president has handful on his platter

With the ouster of the newly elected President Mohamed Morsi by a military coup, the situation in Egypt may now be interpreted as being back to square one. But in same the neighbourhood, a lamp was recently lit sending out a ray of hope after the 64-year old moderate cleric Hassan Rouhani was elected as President of Iran. Unlike the street protests and civil strifes that led to democracy in Arab world, Rouhani’s rise to presidency has been peaceful. Arab Spring has at places turned into winter but hopes remain that the pragmatic Iranian President-elect Hassan Rouhani, after assuming office on 3 August, can, effectively deploy his diplomatic skills, and get the support of the Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and the Revolutionary Guard Corps for implementing his vision.

The president of Iran is more like a prime minister since the supreme leader is the real head of the state and the government. But history proves that the president of Iran is certainly not irrelevant! The way Rouhani has played his role in the politics of the country in the past with his rise to the inner circle of power, earned him the name of ‘Diplomat Sheik’. He will be sworn in as the seventh President of Iran and is the fourth cleric to hold the presidency. Among the six candidates allowed to contest, he was the the only centrist. Pre-election surveys indicated a tough contest between Rouhani and Tehran Mayor Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf but when Rouhani managed to get the support of former presidents Hasemi Rafsanjani and Mohammad Khatami, the tide turned in his favour. It also encouraged the reformists, moderates and a large section of women and youth to ensure Rouhani’s victory.

However, Rouhani should be cautious and note that 49.3 per cent of the voters did not vote for him. To be successful in his endeavours, he needs to choose the approach between the former reformist President Khatami and the former hardliner President Ahmadinejad. If he tries to be a new Khatami, the hardliners will not tolerate him. He must take the Supreme Leader Ayotollah Ali Khamenei into confidence.

He should learn from the failures of the past presidents and that of the Green Movement. Ali Akbar Hashem Rafsanjani, who was the president from 1989 to 1997, was stripped of much of his powers and saw two of his children jailed. Rafsanjani made something of the job and his unique achievement helped earn him disqualification from voting in 2013 polls. President Mohammad Khatami, with his leanings towards Islamic left and who was in office from 1997 to 2005, was barred from leaving Iran and his reformist party was largely sidelined. His successor Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was summoned to court two days after the recent polls and faces an uncertain fate after falling afoul of the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei two years ago. The Diplomat Sheik, therefore, has to cautiously pilot and implement his reformist vision agenda. As far as India is concerned, it has no problem with the existing dispensation in Iran, expect that it cannot expand its trade and investment relations beyond a certain point owing to the sanctions imposed on that country. India’s crucial dependence on Iran is for oil imports. With global prices of crude on a rising trend, Indian oil companies want to hedge and diversify import sources. Despite India managing to get a waiver from US to continue buying crude oil from Iran, its crude oil imports from that country has declined by more than 26.5 per cent in 2012-2013. There are problems of routing payments and shipping and insurance of consignments.

In May, Iran’s total exports of oil across the world less than 8,00,000 barrels per day, a two-third decline compared to pre-sanctions period. Oil accounts for some 80 per cent of hard currency earnings and more than half of fiscal revenues for Iran. According to former Iranian President Hashemi Rafsanjani, Iran has the highest break-even oil price in the world, it needs oil trade at $140 per barrel to meet its budgetary deficit. Another area, where India needs Iran’s help, is the trade route to Afghanistan. Pakistan is not willing to give to-and-fro trade route to Afghanistan. Therefore, as an alternative, India has chosen transit route through Chabahar port in Iran. Besides land route, the Iranian Government has proposals for rail links to Afghanistan and even up to Central Asia. India has already committed $ 100 million investment for development of Chabahar port.

United States and its five negotiating allies (P5+1) want Iran to stop its medium-level nuclear enrichment programme apprehending that the country may ultimately join the nuclear arms race. Rouhani will have to take up the responsibility of convincing the P5+1 that Tehran does not seek atomic arms, if it wants the sanctions imposed on it to go. During the poll campaign, Rouhani and others blamed the outgoing President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for his confrontational attitude that torpedoed the nuclear talks with P5+1.

Sanctions imposed on Iran have impacted the country’s economy with rising prices, unemployment and joblessness and have impeded the economic growth of the country. However, there is a ray of hope for economic revival of Iran. The investment climate in Iran is not that bad. Besides the problems of sanctions, Rouhani needs to tackle the problems of corruption, rising prices, unemployment and joblessness at home. He needs to render gender empowerment and adopt reconciliation approach towards different political forces and keep clerics in good humour. Release of political prisoners and that of the Green Movement is another issue for which he needs the nod from the Supreme Leader Ayotollah Ali Khamenei.

The conservatives in the US, Israel and Saudi Arabia want stricter control on Iran. The Sunni Muslim world is arrayed against Iran particularly when it comes to the situation in Syria, Lebanon. Iran supports the Assad regime in Syria, which has enabled it to project its power into the Levant by being an actor in the Arab-Israeli theatre and by providing support to the Lebonese Hezbollah movement. This has annoyed the US and its allies, who want Assad to go. Iran is extremely worried over the Syrian opposition forces seeking to destabilise Nouri al-Maliki’s regime in Iraq with the help of Sunni insurgents. Here Rouhani has to deploy his diplomatic skills to change the geopolitics in favour of the Shiite Iranian state. He has to change the attitude from one of confrontation to reconciliation and broker peace between Palestine and Israel and ensure Shiite interests in Syria, Lebanon and Iraq.

He needs to make Iran play a proactive and constructive role in the war-ravaged Afghanistan. But his first move should be to get the sanctions lifted on the issue of its nuclear enrichment. India stands to benefit if sanctions on Iran lifted. IPA

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