Since the conclusion of the presidential elections in Iran, policymakers have been left to wonder what will be the result of the selection of Hassan Rowhani. Pro-Tehran pundits have been quick to label him a “moderate” and claim that he will usher in a new era of “moderation” in dealing with the West. Behind such a rosy picture is a carefully crafted agenda, one that aims to reduce pressure on the regime and removing sanctions; with the Iranian regime promising to curb its nuclear program in return. These analysts however fail to address the consequences of ultimately buying Tehran time to advance it dangerous nuclear program. Worryingly, this policy of appeasement has gained a voice in the corridors of Washington. On this occasion, more than ever before, the West does not have the luxury of time to conclude that Iran’s new President is a wolf in sheep’s clothing.
The regime would have the world believe that its elections are fair and free. However although the selection of Rowhani is described as a surprise by many, his emergence is all too convenient for a regime intent on buying itself time.
Rowhani is the resurrection of the “smiling mullah” Mohammad Khatami. Made famous by Khatami, the “smiling mullah” has been a policy used by the regime to hide its true face. This is the face of the regime that the likes of British Foreign Minister Jack Straw were happy to meet and be pictured alongside time and again. However, like Khatami, Rowhani will come to the West’s negotiating table, take all that is offered to him and provide nothing in return.
Rowhani's ascendency however, does give us an indication of the power struggle that is ongoing at the Iranian regime’s helm. Iran’s supreme leader was weakened by his failure to dissuade two-time President Hashemi Rafsanjani from registering as a candidate. Ultimately the infighting and the determination to prevent another election backlash resulted in Rowhani’s selection rather than Khamenei’s preferred choice, Saeed Jalili. Accepting a candidate whom he did not prefer has now left the Supreme Leader vulnerable and the divide between the regime’s factions widened.
Regardless of the “moderate” façade, the fact remains that the regime in Tehran has not changed. All matters of foreign policy are ultimately decided by the Supreme Leader, including the nuclear dossier, Iran's involvement in Syria, and the egregious human rights abuses.
Western policymakers must put aside empty rhetoric and focus on the realities on the ground. Tehran does not respond to negotiations; it simply uses them to buy time to pursue its goals. The best option with which to solve the multifaceted Iranian crisis requires no military intervention, nor appeasement of a dictatorship, but rather to engage with the Iranian people and their opposition movement to bring about democratic change. We should today reach out to groups such as the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI).
On June 22, some 100,000 Iranians came together to voice support for the NCRI's President-elect, Maryam Rajavi, who articulated a Ten-Point plan for the future of Iran. This plan which calls for a democratic, secular republic in Iran, free of nuclear weapons and executions is something that should be backed by our leaders.
The unprecedented gathering was the best testament to this movement’s popularity and prowess to offer a viable alternative to the Iranian regime. It is time that we in the West stand in solidarity with the Iranian resistance movement, not only because it is just, but because it is the only viable solution which averts the disastrous prospects of military conflict, a nuclear armed Iran, or worse still, both.
Iran's future does not rest with the mullahs' whether they are smiling or not, rather it will be built on the Iranian people’s endeavors to secure democracy and freedom. We must back the Iranian people and their organized opposition to achieve this aim.
David Amess, Conservative MP for Southend West, is Chairman of the British Parliamentary Committee for Iran Freedom