June 26, 2013, Washington, D.C. – The House of Representatives Committee on Foreign Affairs held a hearing on June 18 regarding the nature and implications of Hassan Rouhani’s recent victory in Iran’s presidential election. The hearing featured three scholars of U.S. policy regarding the Middle East—Suzanne Maloney, Ph.D, Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution’s Saban Center for Middle East Policy, Alireza Nader, Senior International Policy Analyst for the RAND Corporation, and Karim Sadjadpour, Senior Associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace’s Middle East Program. The panel discussed the reasons for the election outcome and what the results suggest concerning U.S. policy toward Iran. The three panelists were largely in agreement in their conclusions. They believed that the election was about the Iranian economy and nuclear negotiations, and that the outcome suggests that international pressure against Iran is starting to have an effect.
Nader said that the U.S. should offer Iran a deal that both denies the Iranian regime the ability to produce nuclear weapons and allows it to have a “dignified exit” from the current standoff. Any future sanctions, he stated, should be specifically targeted at Iran’s nuclear program, and should be reversible if Iran and the PS+1 (the U.S., U.K. France, Germany, Russia, and China) reach a deal concerning this issue.
Nader also said that while existing sanctions have hurt the Iranian regime, they have hurt the Iranian people as well, and that for this reason, it is important that any future U.S. sanctions target the regime as much as possible. Additionally, the U.S. must “ensure that sanctions do not lead to a shortage of food and medicine.” Such a shortage, in addition to its serious negative consequences for Iranians, could be a “propaganda tool” for the regime and diminish the considerable goodwill America enjoys among the Iranian public. In this regard, Nader praised recent sanctions by the Treasury Department against the business empire of the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
Maloney stated that even though Iranian presidential elections are, even at their best, not fully free and fair, their results are nevertheless important. She said that Rouhani won, in large measure, because Iranians are desperate for economic improvement, and that Khamenei likely allowed the result to stand because he wanted to repair Iran’s troubled relations with the international community and find a resolution to the ongoing dispute regarding Iran’s nuclear program, and he thought that Rouhani, a moderate and former nuclear negotiator, stood a good chance of achieving those goals.
Maloney argued that Rouhani will need to show Iranians that diplomacy can bring rewards, and for this reason, the United States should be “prepared to offer significant sanctions relief in exchange for any concessions on the nuclear issue.” She also said that it would be a bad idea for Congress to impose new sanctions in the wake of the appearance of a “serious moderate with real credentials” like Rouhani.
The panelists also urged American leaders to be more creative in their approaches to achieving political change in Iran. Sadjadpour noted that Iran is “one of the few countries in the Middle East where America’s strategic interests and its commitment to democratic values align, rather than clash.” He argued that the U.S. should pursue policies that facilitate an eventual transfer to representative government in Iran. One of the best ways to do this, according to Sadjadpour, is through television, the means by which most Iranians receive news. In particular, he urged that the Persian News Network (PNN) be “taken outside the confines of Voice of America,” where he said it has been underperforming, and “rendered a public-private partnership, much like the BBC, which is supported by the U.S. government but managed by media professionals.”
Click here to watch the full hearing.