The Washington Post
TEHRAN – One hundred days into his first term as Iran’s president, Hassan Rouhani offered an upbeat progress report to the country Tuesday, two days after a nuclear deal with world powers gave his young administration a much-needed boost.
“We pride ourselves on being accountable to our people,” Rouhani said at the start of a live television question-and-answer session in which he outlined his administration’s handling of Iran’s domestic and foreign affairs since taking power in August.
Among the successes Rouhani highlighted were a steep drop in inflation, harmony among the three branches of government, reduced domestic security restrictions since he took office and the announcement of a draft charter of citizens’ rights for Iranians.
“Citizenship rights is about making all Iranians feel they are part of one nation, one identity, under one umbrella they can feel proud of,” Rouhani said.
Rouhani, who won a decisive victory in a June election after pledging a government of “hope and prudence,” inherited a range of domestic and international challenges that were widely seen as insurmountable. But the interim nuclear accord has provided a concrete example of the constructive action that many Iranians have longed for in recent years.
“Whatever one’s opinion of him, Rouhani has impeccable timing,” said Kevan Harris, a sociologist at Princeton University who frequently travels to Iran. “His administration announced an American-style period of 100 days to deliver results, and they just snuck in under the wire. All other policy arenas – economic change, human rights, political reform, regional alliances – are partially linked to the promise of revamping relations with the West.”
Given an economy hollowed out by sanctions and a disaffected populace increasingly clamoring to see Iran’s global standing improve, Rouhani could ill afford slow progress on the nuclear issue. Now, a reduction in sanctions, one of his key campaign promises, appears within reach – a prospect that is already being roundly hailed here as a victory.
“The result of Rouhani’s 100 days of diplomacy is incredible. During this period, nuclear talks ended with a successful result, and this success will positively impact our economy,” Hassan Kamran, a lawmaker who is generally sympathetic to Rouhani, said in an interview with domestic reporters Monday.
The president’s centrist agenda also accounts for his apparent acceptance by the bulk of Iran’s political establishment, a luxury neither of his two predecessors – the reformist Mohammad Khatami and the hard-line Mahmoud Ahmadinejad – enjoyed, giving him the political mobility to make bold moves.
But despite his early success, Rouhani warned that Iran is not out of the woods. “We have a long road ahead,” he said. “Whatever we seek to achieve must and can only come via national unity. We must join hands.”
And despite the wide-ranging support he has attracted, Rouhani still has his critics, some of whom say he needs to focus on Iran’s internal problems.
“Connecting the solution of all our problems to foreign policy is asking too much from foreign policy and at the same time ignoring our domestic capabilities,” Mehdi Fazaeli, a political analyst, wrote in an editorial in the Jam-e-Jam daily Monday.
Thus far, there has been little sign of progress on several intractable domestic challenges.
After promising greater Internet freedoms, Rouhani has not acted to open up access or increase Internet security for Iranians. During his campaign and the early weeks of his presidency, many speculated that social media sites such as Twitter and Facebook, which have been blocked since the 2009 election, would be accessible again.
Rouhani and members of his cabinet even became active users of the sites, but Internet connectivity for ordinary people, perhaps the simplest and cheapest of the fixes Iran can make, has shown no improvement over previous years.
Human rights is another issue that has yet to be fully addressed.
In September, several high-profile political prisoners were freed, sparking hope that the leaders of the 2009 post-election protest movement, Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi, would be released after three years of house arrest. But Rouhani has done little to address the subject, disappointing many supporters of Iran’s reform movement who voted for him expecting clearer and more concrete support from the new administration.
Rights groups including Amnesty International also say Iran has increased the rate of executions since Rouhani took office. Political detentions, like capital punishment, are under the judiciary’s supervision, but Rouhani has offered no discernible objections to either policy, providing fodder for critics at home and abroad who say he differs little from his predecessors.
Reza Marashi, research director at the National Iranian American Council in Washington, acknowledged that tangible political, economic and social improvements will take time. But he added, “A positive next step would be freeing political prisoners.” Marashi pointed out that when Iran’s foreign minister and lead nuclear negotiator, Mohammad Javad Zarif, returned from Geneva earlier this week, crowds who came to meet him chanted the names of Mousavi and Karroubi.
Most analysts, though, argue that the Rouhani team’s commitment to diplomacy with old adversaries is essential to getting Iran out of its rut, as much of the country’s fate in the coming months will be decided by factors beyond the government’s control.
Iran’s opponents, primarily Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the leadership of Saudi Arabia, along with large segments of the U.S. Congress, still consider the country the Middle East’s biggest threat. But they have seen a deep shift in how the rest of the world perceives Iran, and analysts say Rouhani and his team deserve credit for that.
“In foreign policy, Rouhani’s key opened the largest lock with this nuclear agreement,” said economist and analyst Saeed Laylaz. “The tone of radicalism that the region and the world heard from Iran has changed, and that is impacting our relations with other countries, especially in the Persian Gulf region.”