The election of Mr. Rohani as the president of Iran and the change of tone by his administration have raised hopes that a possible military confrontation between the West and Iran would not be on the horizon and the two sides could come to a quick resolution of the Iranian nuclear issue.
The U.S. head of the state, president Obama, even bent over backwards and had a telephone conversation with Mr. Rohani. Bear in mind that Mr. Rohani carries the title of president but he is not the head of state in Iran. The major functions of state--the enforcement of the laws and policy making decisions are almost entirely out of his hands. All the military and police functions are totally under the control of the supreme leader, Ayatollah Khamenei. He has representatives at every sensitive state organization and institution and are the final arbiters. Mr. Khamenei is the decision maker on state policies of the Islamic Republic of Iran. The complicated relationship of Mr. Rohani's office with the head of the state, Mr. Khamenei, in Iran would probably put him below the level of secretary of state in the United States.
This whole thing will put the European and American negotiating teams at an overall disadvantage of knowing what the real position of their opposing party is all about. They have been really negotiating with a man, Mr. Khamenei, who is never present. All these and many more facts have been glossed over in the exuberance of the news of a "breakthrough" or a "thaw" in relations between Iran and the West and the U.S. in particular.
Should the change of tone from Iran be ignored? Obviously not. This change of tone should be explored for any content that promises progress. The call by president Obama to Mr. Rohani to explore this change of tone was quite politically astute on the part of President Obama despite the disparity of the ranks. It showed the flexibility of the U.S. administration in its dealings with Iran. Now, what should one expect from all these developments? That the Islamic state in Iran will somehow relinquish its desire to attain nuclear weapons? Its denial that it never had an active nuclear weapons program most likely belies its true intentions.
The core conflict that has expressed itself in terms of the Islamic Republic's nuclear program is that there is a religious oligarchy ruling Iran. The Islamic government which began with the ambitions of expanding its rule and influence, today is on a trajectory of an increasing conflict with its own citizens and increasing isolation at the international level. This government needs to fundamentally change and recognize the civil rights of its citizens and in this context specifically recognize the rights of women in Iran who are clamoring for their equality. It is unlikely that this change could come from the top, where one day the Islamic government in Iran would declare its own demise and nail shut its own coffin. At the same time rejection of the Islamic Republic does not preclude attempts to challenge it for change. One of the challenges has been abandonment of its nuclear ambitions, but a lot more could be done on the political arena.
Watching Mr. Rohani parading through meetings and interviews in New York, his attire caught my attention. Nobody protested that he was walking around freely wearing his traditional garb. His dress looks impractical for the modern world but that is his choice. What if every Western country would assign a female ambassador to Iran who would introduce her credentials to the Iranian government, in Tehran, in her own traditional attire, dressed professionally as a female without any head cover or hijab, as a practical working woman.
If the Iranian government could recognize this reality of the modern world then it is probably on its way to mending its fences with the world and its own citizens. Welcome Ms. Ambassadors!