Saudis Want ‘Deeds, not Words’ after President Rouhani Reelected in Iran

Will Iranian President Rouhani moderate Iran, or is he just for show? Rouhani visiting medical facility. Illustrative. FEMA/Marty Bahamonde.

Hassan Rouhani, the technically more moderate candidate running for president in Iran, was reelected last week in Iran—but at this point there is more hope than expectation that Rouhani will coax Iran into the good graces of the global community. Given that the dictatorial Ayatollah leadership holds the real power in Iran and Rouhani’s first term was marred by sponsored terrorism, troubling missile tests, and ongoing military interference in Yemen and Syria, the rival Saudi Arabian government was quick to say they will judge Rouhani by what Iran does—not what is said.

“We welcome an Iran that’s open to the world. We welcome an Iran that lives at peace with its neighbors. We welcome an Iran that doesn’t interfere in the affairs of other countries. But this is not the Iran we see,” said Saudi Foreign Minister Adel bin Ahmed Al-Jubeir in a Saturday press briefing with United States Secretary of State Rex Tillerson that was published by the U.S. State Department.

“So when you come back to your question of what do we think about the reelection of Rouhani, we want to see deeds, not words. And we will continue to judge Iran based on its deeds, and we will continue to base our policy vis-a-vis Iran based on Iran’s deeds.”­ For his part, Tillerson expressed hope that Iran would change, but refused to comment on his expectations.

The top American diplomat had a list of hoped-for steps for Iran in Rouhani’s new term, including putting a stop to ballistic missile testing, restoring freedom of speech in their own country, starting the process of “dismantling Iran’s network of terrorism” and the financing thereof, and halting their support for “destabilizing forces” in the Middle East.

“That’s what we hope this election will bring. I’m not going to comment on my expectation,” said Tillerson. “But we hope that if Rouhani wanted to change Iran’s relationship with the rest of the world, those are the things he could do.”

The Fars News Agency reported that Rouhani won 57% of the vote in last Friday’s election, while top hardline candidate Seyed Ebrahim Rayeesi took 38.5% of the ballots cast.

While Rouhani was considered more moderate and reformist than Rayeesi, the candidates were prequalified by Iran’s Guardian Council and also ultimately report to Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. In other words, Iran’s presidency is not the top authority or truly independent from the theocratic dictatorship that runs the nation.

And while Tillerson and Al-Jubeir want to see Iran take some steps towards harmony with the region, Khamenei’s goals for Rouhani’s new term didn’t mention any such steps.

The official Twitter feed for the Iranian leader listed a variety of domestic goals for the new government, while Khamenei looked to set an assertive and proud global agenda. Tweeted the Ayatollah, “National dignity & wisdom in world relations & efforts for international power are among priorities in Islamic, Iranian management.”

What will this mean for the Middle East? For now, the Saudis are leaving the Iranian elections to them and will respond to Iranian actions. “With regard to the reelection of Rouhani, this is an internal Iranian matter. Who they choose for their president is their business, as it should be,” said Saudi Foreign Minister Al-Jubeir the day after the election.

“From our perspective, we judge Iran by its actions, not by its words.”

(By Joshua Spurlock,, May 21, 2017)


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