During Iran's brief presidential campaign earlier this month, President Barack Obama imposed yet another round of sanctions on Iran—this time on the automotive industry and Iran's plummeting currency, the rial. U.S. officials vowed there would be even more punishments unless Iran quickly agrees to roll back its nuclear program.
After the surprise victory this weekend of Hassan Rowhani—the most moderate candidate given permission to run—the administration says it's eager to return to negotiations with Iran. But that doesn't mean the Obama administration is ready to ease pressure on the Iranian regime, let alone cut a deal with it. In an interview broadcast on PBS Monday night, Obama said the elections showed "the Iranian people want to move in a different direction," but he said that sanctions "will not be lifted in the absence of significant steps" demonstrating "that Iran is not pursuing a nuclear weapon."
Like so much about Iran, Rowhani is a puzzle. Is he a reformer, a pragmatist, or one more organization man, just with better rhetoric? And how will Rowhani's past experience as a nuclear negotiator shape his attitude? In 2004, he agreed to temporarily suspend Iran's enrichment efforts, but when talks with the European Union collapsed he was bitterly criticized in Tehran for giving away too much. Rowhani later argued, correctly, that diplomatic "calm" bought critical time for Iran to build up its nuclear capabilities.