Navid Hassanpour believes that Rouhani is willing to cut a deal on Iran’s nuclear program:
Rouhani is no stranger to negotiating with the U.S. and Europe. He is said to have been a member of the Iranian negotiating team during the Iran-Contra affair, and was the Iranian chief nuclear negotiator under Khatami as the secretary of the Iranian Supreme National Security Council. He is also the head of Center for Strategic Research, a policy research organization close to Rafsanjani. Three out of the final six presidential candidates this year have extensive experience—with mixed results—in international negotiations. This is a signal on where the Islamic Republic’s priorities lie at moment. During the past two weeks, Rouhani repeatedly mentioned he prefers to talk to the Europeans’ chief [sic] instead of wasting time squabbling with Europeans themselves. These words, as a window to Rouhani’s understanding of the World, can also be indicative of the nature of his foreign diplomacy in the next four years.
Paul Pillar is adamant that the West take advantage of this opportunity for a reset:
Rouhani’s election presents the United States and its partners with a test—of our intentions and seriousness about reaching an agreement. Failure of the test will confirm suspicions in Tehran that we do not want a deal and instead are stringing along negotiations while waiting for the sanctions to wreak more damage. Passage of the test will require placing on the table a proposal that, in return for the desired restrictions on Iran’s nuclear activities, incorporates significant relief from economic sanctions and at least tacit acceptance of a continued peaceful Iranian nuclear program, to include low-level enrichment of uranium. … Passage of the test also means not making any proposal an ultimatum that is coupled with threats of military force, which only feed Iranian suspicions that for the West the negotiations are a box-checking prelude to war and regime change.
Jonathan Steele agrees, and suggests Syria be the first topic of conversation:
[T]he first thing Obama should do is to drop US objections to letting Iran attend the proposed Geneva conference on Syria. If Washington is ready to negotiate with Iran on nuclear issues, it makes no sense to exclude it from the talks on Syria. The second thing is to accelerate preparations for the conference itself by putting sustained pressure on Syria’s rebel forces to come up with a negotiating strategy and take part. For Washington to change course here would send an important signal, not only that Iran has to be part of any solution in Syria and the region, but also that the anti-Iranian cancer that has affected American policy in the Middle East since the axis-of-evil speech has at last been excised.
Vali Nasr makes a case for new outreach and meaningful concessions:
To take advantage of Rowhani’s victory and break the logjam over nuclear negotiations, Washington has to put on the table incentives it has thus far been unwilling to contemplate. It will have to offer Iran sanctions relief in exchange for agreeing to Western demands. At a minimum, the United States would like Iran to accept IAEA demands for intrusive inspection of its nuclear facilities; cap its uranium enrichment at 5 percent, and ship out of the country its stockpile of uranium enriched to 20 percent. Iran in turn wants a formal recognition of its right to enrich uranium and, more immediately, the lifting of crippling sanctions on its financial institutions and oil exports. Ahmadinejad is faulted in Iran for wrecking the country’s economy. Populism, mismanagement, and international isolation have combined to put Iran’s economy into a downward spiral. Between 2009 and 2013, real GDP growth has fallen from 4 percent to 0.4 percent, unemployment has risen to 17 percent, and inflation has grown to 22 percent — and those are official numbers, which tend to downplay the gravity of the economic crisis. It is estimated that 40 percent of Iranians live below the poverty line. Reformists will grow in strength if they are able to show that they can reverse that trend by at least getting the West for the first time to offer negotiating away specific sanctions.
Jack Straw, who has sat across the negotiating table from Rouhani before, offers his take on the new Iranian president:
There are … two dangers. The first is to assume that nothing has changed – that Rowhani is merely a better-dressed Ahmadinejad. This is the essence of the belligerent comments from Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, in the wake of Rowhani’s victory. They are unthinking and self-defeating.
The second danger is to assume that everything has changed, and to expect too much too quickly from Rowhani. Our Government should seek to re-open full diplomatic relations with Iran, but he won’t take office until early August. He has to choose a cabinet – and have his ministers endorsed by the parliament (far from a formality). He has to negotiate with the leader, and the powerful Revolutionary Guards, before he can negotiate with the West. While it will be a huge relief to do business with him, he is a Shia and an Iranian, and intensely proud of being both. But show him and his nation patience, respect and understanding, and there’s a possibility that the 10 years of “E3+3” meetings which started in south Tehran in 2003 might, just, have a happy ending.