Reasons to be hopeful for Iran

It was not the threat of military action that brought President Rouhani to the phone

Share
Related Topics

There are reasons to be cautious – of course there are – but let us recognise that historic change is under way in Iran. To enumerate the reasons to be cautious, we know that Hassan Rouhani, the new President, stands an uncertain distance away from wielding the ultimate power of decision in Iran, and that the most powerful person remains Ayatollah Khamenei, the Supreme Leader.

We know Mr Rouhani's expressions of goodwill towards Jews, expressed unexpectedly on Twitter, may not mean that Iran is about to accept Israel's right to exist. We know that "Ahmadinejad set the bar very low", as Ali Ansari, the director of the Institute of Iranian Studies at St Andrew's University, put it: any change of president was likely to be for the better. And we know that Iran's rulers continue to sponsor terrorist and sectarian forces in Syria, Iraq, Lebanon and elsewhere.

But this is a big moment. The presidents of the United States and of Iran have spoken for the first time. The Iranian government has said that it wants to talk about its nuclear programme in the hope of lifting economic sanctions that are now having a serious effect. The economic crisis, which has pushed inflation up to 40 per cent and unemployment to 20 per cent, is probably the driving force behind Mr Rouhani's new approach.

If this is the case, it would be worth noting that it was not the threat of military action that brought Mr Rouhani to the phone. The US President has been criticised by American hawks for his weak and inconsistent foreign policy, but we should be grateful that the counsels of patience prevailed over his intention to launch punitive strikes against Assad's regime in Syria at the start of this month. President Obama should have learned that the bellicosity of his predecessor served only to inflame the nationalism and anti-Americanism that gave the theological conservatives in Iran their authority.

We should also praise Baroness Ashton, the European Union's foreign affairs representative, who kept the nuclear talks going through a long period of Iranian intransigence.

That what Mr Rouhani is attempting is real and difficult was shown by yesterday's protest that greeted him at Tehran airport on his return from the United Nations in New York. There were only about 60 people throwing shoes and shouting "Death to America" and "Death to Israel", outnumbered by 200 of Mr Rouhani's supporters, but the ideology of the Islamic revolution is still strong.

Iran, which could be a rich, highly educated country and a force for good in the region, is still in the grip of a backward-looking ideology that immiserates its people and threatens its neighbours. As we report today, Iran has the world's highest rate of execution by stoning. But it also has a new generation of young people who hope for a better life.

We should welcome the shift in Iranian attitudes, which Mr Rouhani represents if the response on social media to his new approach is to be believed, away from a foreign policy based on the question: will this annoy the Americans?

But it was President Obama's hand extended in friendship that meant this shift could yield results. He took the risk of looking foolish when he sought a meeting with Mr Rouhani, which was refused. But now he has a great prize in sight. Rapprochement with Iran could be as important as Richard Nixon's with China 41 years ago.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Home Care / Support Workers

£7 - £10 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This care provider is looking for Home ...

Recruitment Genius: Web Team Leader

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the UK's leading web des...

Recruitment Genius: Client Manager

£27000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A growing, successful, friendly...

Recruitment Genius: Property Negotiator - OTE £20,000+

£16000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This family owned, independent ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Separate lives: Boston’s streets illustrate the divide between the town’s communities  

Migrants have far more to offer than hard work and wealth creation, yet too many exist in isolation from the rest of society

Emily Dugan
Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird has sold 40 million copies  

Go Set a Watchman: Harper Lee’s new novel is more than just a literary event

Joseph Charlton
Greece says 'No': A night of huge celebrations in Athens as voters decisively back Tsipras and his anti-austerity stance in historic referendum

Greece referendum

Greeks say 'No' to austerity and plunge Europe into crisis
Ten years after the 7/7 terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?

7/7 bombings anniversary

Ten years after the terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?
Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has created

Versace haute couture review

Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has ever created
No hope and no jobs, so Gaza's young risk their lives, climb the fence and run for it

No hope and no jobs in Gaza

So the young risk their lives and run for it
Fashion apps: Retailers roll together shopping and social networking for mobile customers

Fashion apps

Retailers roll together shopping and social networking for mobile customers
The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy
Number of young homeless in Britain 'more than three times the official figures'

'Everything changed when I went to the hostel'

Number of young homeless people in Britain is 'more than three times the official figures'
Compton Cricket Club

Compton Cricket Club

Portraits of LA cricketers from notorious suburb to be displayed in London
London now the global money-laundering centre for the drug trade, says crime expert

Wlecome to London, drug money-laundering centre for the world

'Mexico is its heart and London is its head'
The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court that helps a winner keep on winning

The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court

It helps a winner keep on winning
Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

Is this the future of flying?

Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

Isis are barbarians

but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

Call of the wild

How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate