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Grasp the nettle

india Updated: Jun 18, 2013 22:38 IST

Hindustan Times
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It is not merely the hopes of the Iranian electorate, but also the fears of the international community that are now riding on the Iranian president-elect, Hassan Rouhani. Rouhani, generally seen as the most moderate and pragmatic of the tightly controlled roster of candidates, surprised most by not only emerging victorious but winning the first round of voting outright.

Rouhani has about as nasty a set of policy nettles as is possible for the head of a government to have. Iran’s nuclear development is drawing the country into potential conflict with the international community. The sanctions imposed on Iran are starting to drag down its economy: it is experiencing 30% inflation, shortages of everything from medicine to machinery, and petroleum exports, the cornerstone of its economy, are flagging as countries like India seek easier sources of oil.

Rouhani, going by his campaign rhetoric and his own writings, has taken the line that ideology should not get in the way of pragmatism. If this sentiment can be matched with political skill, then Iran has the potential to dig itself out of the hole that it has found itself in. His first priority must be to win the full confidence of the country’s most powerful individual, Ayatollah Khamenei.

Rouhani is not as close to Khamenei as some of the other candidates that he defeated are, but this is essential if Rouhani is to be able to negotiate with the international community with any credibility. His second priority is to heal the social wounds that exist in Iran, whose potential is much diminished because of the rift between its urban educated youth and the conservative clergy.

Iran is a natural leader of the Persian Gulf. However, the regime’s support for militancy and terror, its blatant violations of its international treaty obligations on the nuclear front, and its incautious and dangerous squabbles with Israel and almost all its neighbours have given it a reputation as a destabilising rogue state.

Rouhani’s presidency represents the latest chance for Iran to achieve its true potential as a nation and civilisation, and to avoid the pain and danger latent in its present global isolation.