The Iranian side gave active credit to the talks. Saeed Jalili, Secretary of Iran's Supreme National Security Council and chief nuclear negotiator of the country, praised the "active and practical" attitude the six countries showed. Iran's Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi believed the nuclear issue is coming to a turning point, and the Almaty negotiations served as a milestone. Larijani said during his trip to India that the Iranian nuclear issue was approaching a solution, because the West realized that only negotiations can truly settle the problem. The international community also pointed out that the result of this round of dialogue was better than expected.
The Almaty dialogue brought Iranians hope of a peaceful solution to the nuclear issue. The anticipation that Washington could remove sanctions against Iran made the rial appreciate against the dollar, from 38,000 rials to 33,000 rials for one dollar. Iran's most important holiday, Noruz, was enjoyed in peace, thanks to expectations of the second round of the Almaty dialogue.
However, this was not what Washington wanted to see. During the second round of the Almaty dialogue, Ashton said the six countries would not discuss with Iran on how to continue the dialogue until foreign ministers of the six countries have a consultation. Clearly, the countries intended to postpone negotiations until after the Iranian presidential election, so as to adopt new tactics.
The United States, a major party in the nuclear issue, is aware that the Iranian Government will neither risk changing its stance, nor will it make major compromises. Plus, Washington will not let Iran use the dialogue to reach its goal of stabilizing its domestic situation. Weakening the current Iranian administration is Washington's long-term goal and the underlying reason why Washington imposed harsh economic sanctions against Iran.
According to Iran's Constitution, the Guardian Council will review all presidential candidates' political and social qualifications after the application period ends and select qualified candidates. The selected candidates can then begin a 19-day campaign. The official application for Iran's 11th presidential election has not yet begun, and it is still unknown who will pass the review. But several aspects of the coming election have stood out.
The number of presidential candidates will hit a new record. About 20 had declared their participation by mid-April, and more are expected to join before the May 7 deadline. Some politicians who did not release an election statement have also started election activities. Most candidates are from the conservative camp, and there are only a few reformist and independent candidates. All candidates have displayed their economic blueprints in election manifestos, promising to change the current economic situation as a way to win voters.
Voters are also linking their voting choices with resolving sanctions. More Iranians appeal for warming up relations with the West. It is widely believed that Israel and the United States will not launch military actions against Iran, but Iran will see further sanctions if it insists on a hard-line stance on the nuclear issue. People think it will be best if their new president is an expert on economic management, and has the ability and experience of building good relations with the West. There is a popular belief that without sanctions being removed, no president will be able to stop the economy from sliding. The root of the sanctions, however, is the hostility between Washington and Tehran, which is also the crux of the Iranian nuclear issue.
The topic of improving relations with Washington is no longer a taboo in Iran. Many presidential candidates spoke about the possibility in their election manifestos. For example, Hassan Rouhani, who previously served as secretary of Iran's Supreme National Security Council and chief nuclear negotiator of the country, announced his intention to recover the economy and engage in constructive interaction with the world. He also came up with detailed solutions to problems including the economy, sanctions, nuclear negotiations and the U.S.-Iranian relationship in his election manifesto. He pointed out that Iran's nuclear negotiation delegation under his leadership pursued a correct strategy by exempting the Iranian nuclear issue from submission to the UN Security Council and helping the country avoid international sanctions.
Rouhani criticized the current government's nuclear policy and expressed his views on the U.S.-Iranian relationship. In his view, Iran cannot deny the fact that the United States is the top military, scientific and economic power of today's world, and its influence remains significant. The ongoing hostility between Iran and the United States goes back to the U.S. policy toward Iran after Iran's 1979 Islamic Revolution, said Rouhani, who also suggested specific steps of ameliorating relations with Washington.
He believes finding a middle ground is his advantage in the upcoming election because Iran has seen the consequences of going to extremes. There are also several other popular politicians in Iran who share his approach, such as former presidents Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani and Mohammad Khatami. But they have not expressed an intention to run for the presidency.
The result of Iran's presidential election is hard to predict. The world was surprised by the victories of Khatami in 1997 and Ahmadinejad in 2005. Given Iran's history of unpredictable election outcomes, this year's contest may also have surprises in store.
The author is a research fellow with the Institute of West Asian and African Studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences
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