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Iran's New President: Good Cop or Bad Cop?

Hassan Rouhani

There have been hopeful signs and some positive rhetoric emanating from both Tehran and Washington after Iran’s new President, Hassan Rouhani, formally entered office this week. At his first press conference Rouhani called for “serious and substantial” talks with the US. The Obama administration responded by saying that if Rouhani is serious about negotiations, then the US would be a “willing partner.”

This is already better than anything from the Ahmadinejad era, and that’s not the end of the changes. Rouhani also sent another signal when he announced his choices for Cabinet. Among the proposed ministers are experienced centrists known for moderation and veterans of past pragmatist administrations, including Mohammad Javad Zarif for the post of foreign minister. Zarif has been involved with secret negotiations with the US that go back decades, Reuters reports, but he retreated to academia when Ahmadinejad came to power.

Nevertheless, we should remember that it is in Iran’s interest to keep the coalition against it confused and divided. When it comes to the nuclear program, Iran’s traditional negotiating technique is to disguise its intentions in a fog of confusing statements and counter-statements, with “good cops” and “bad cops” raising doubts about the country’s intentions, all of which gives the Supreme Leader lots of room to maneuver among both domestic factions and international coalitions.

What’s clear is that Rouhani is smarter and savvier than Ahmadinejad. That could make him either a more formidable opponent or someone with whom we could do business, depending on how negotiations go. In a relationship like this one, it’s important to keep our attention on the bottom line: Washington’s goal is neither a nuclear Iran nor war with Iran, but a serious and verifiable agreement that prevents both.

[Hassan Rouhani photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons]

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  • Corlyss

    “Meet the new boss, same as the old boss”

    Some of us won’t be fooled again, but my guess is the shallow twit in the White House will make some purring, reassuring “let’s be friends!” nonsense to the new boss.

    • bpuharic

      Just like he did with the old one?

      Oh…wait…he imposed draconian sanctions

      Never mind…

  • Jacksonian_Libertarian

    The Iranian strategy remains the same, use diplomacy to shelter their drive to get Nuclear weapons.

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