Analogies between Secretary of State John F. Kerry's negotiations with Iran and the negotiations the Reagan administration undertook with the Soviet Union have become commonplace. But is Hassan Rouhani really another Mikhail Gorbachev — another leader of a dictatorship with whom the U.S. can (and should) "do business," in Margaret Thatcher's phrase?
Recall that Gorbachev was not just interested in achieving arms reductions with the U.S. He was intent on a thorough reform of Russian society. The Encyclopaedia Britannica summarizes his initiatives: "Under his new policy of glasnost ("openness"), a major cultural thaw took place: freedoms of expression and of information were significantly expanded; the press and broadcasting were allowed unprecedented candor in their reportage and criticism; and the country's legacy of Stalinist totalitarian rule was eventually completely repudiated by the government. Under Gorbachev's policy of perestroika ("restructuring"), the first modest attempts to democratize the Soviet political system were undertaken; multi-candidate contests and the secret ballot were introduced in some elections to party and government posts."
The success of these policies was limited because they were resisted by the apparatchiks — the communist bureaucrats — but there is no question that Gorbachev sent a signal that the old days of repression at home and adventurism abroad were at an end. From his first day in office in 1985, he was intent on pulling Soviet troops out of Afghanistan, a goal he achieved in 1989.