Iranian President Hassan Rouhani winning the May 19 presidential race is unlikely to change overwhelming doubt hovering over his government and perceived by the Trump administration. President Donald Trump’s administration seems likely to want to keep putting pressure on Iran over its weapons programs and what it sees as Tehran’s destabilizing efforts in the Middle East, analysts said.
Trusting Rouhani as public face of a government opposed to US interests and allies in the Middle East is far-fetched, former US officials and analysts said.
He defeated Ebrahim Raisi, a hardline cleric and acolyte of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, who holds ultimate power in Iran’s complex, hybrid system of theocratic and republican elements.
Rouhani won 57 percent of the vote in Friday’s election.
“I think the Trump administration will remain pretty consistent on this issue. So I don’t expect any change” in US policy toward Iran, said Reuel Marc Gerecht, a senior fellow at the conservative Foundation for Defense of Democracy, and a former CIA Iran specialist.
Despite the nuclear deal, the United States still considers Iran a “state sponsor of terrorism.” When Rouhani was first elected in 2013, it was taken as a sign that Iran’s leaders might be more open to the West and would change the confrontational stance they had taken against the United States and its allies in the aftermath of the 1979 Revolution.
While Khamenei gave Rouhani some leeway to negotiate the nuclear deal, other reforms he sought at home, especially greater political freedoms for Iranians, were stymied by Khamenei and the powerful Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps.
There was no immediate reaction to Rouhani’s victory from the Trump administration. Trump is visiting Iran’s main regional rivals, Saudi Arabia and Israel, on his first foreign trip.
While Trump, a Republican, has harshly criticized the nuclear accord struck under predecessor President Barack Obama, a Democrat, he has kept it alive while signaling a desire to confront Iran more directly.
Washington says Tehran’s support for Syrian regime head Bashar al-Assad in Syria’s civil war, Houthi rebels in Yemen, and the Hezbollah political party and militia in Lebanon, have helped destabilize the Middle East.
Ahmad Majidyar, an expert with the Washington-based Middle East Institute, forecasts growing tensions between the US and Iran over Iraq and Syria.
“Washington and Tehran are de facto allies in the fight against ISIS,” Majidyar said. “But now ISIS is on the verge of defeat, we see signs of tensions between Iranian backed- militia forces and the US forces,” he said.
By coincidence, the United States on Wednesday faced a deadline for renewing sanctions waivers that would maintain the nuclear deal. Trump decided to do so, but also imposed narrow sanctions against two Iranian defense officials and an Iranian company that the US government said were linked to Iran’s ballistic missile program.
Rouhani’s re-election is likely to make it harder for the Trump administration to garner international support for European Union, United Nations sanctions or other tough action, analysts said.
“The last thing the Chinese are interested in doing is enacting new sanctions against Iran,” Sadjadpour said.