Abbas Milani tries to decipher the new Iranian president:
How far will Rouhani’s new spirit guide him? Just far enough to stabilize a despotic regime? Or will he change the nature of the government? Unfortunately, U.S. policy does a poor job of anticipating both scenarios. On the one hand, sanctions are far too blunt. They have injured the regime, which is good, but they have also weakened the forces for democracy. A number of important political prisoners recently signed a letter explaining how sanctions have exacted a terrible cost on the average Iranian—and reinforced the conservative claim that negotiations with the Americans are futile.
Untargeted sanctions create the impression that the Americans are hardly sincere in wishing the best for the Iranian people. But there’s another, very different problem posed by U.S. policy. Iranians are nervous that progress on a nuclear deal will win the Iranians so much international goodwill that the regime will feel emboldened to brutally crack down even further. The United States must reassure the Iranian people that their human rights are not up for negotiation. A more nuanced U.S. policy will put Rouhani’s pragmatism to the test: Is he the real moderate deal, or do his flashy robes conceal more sinister intentions?
Yes, but we shouldn’t hope for too much. Getting a verifiable deal on transparent nuclear power and opening up the economy is enough for now. We have seen what so many Iranians want for their country. We need patience while they chart their own destiny. Laura Secor encourages Obama to meet with Rouhani:
The hopes now carrying Rouhani to American shores are as big as they are fragile. For thirty-four years, the United States and Iran have regarded each other balefully across what has seemed an unbridgeable divide. The flexibility required of both sides to reach each other across that chasm without losing their footing might be heroic indeed. But a handshake—the first between the Presidents of Iran and the United States in more than three decades—would be a great start.
Bloomberg’s editorial also supports engagement:
Whether President Barack Obama meets with Rohani at next week’s UN General Assembly — the White House hasn’t ruled out the possibility — or the U.S. engages Iran in some other fashion, Iran’s recent overtures are too intriguing to ignore.
Earlier Dish on Rouhani’s overtures here.