Iranians said goodbye to controversial President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad Sunday — and today the rest of the world is taking his measure.
After a landslide victory in the country's June elections, Rouhani has been laying the rhetorical groundwork for a "hope and prudence" approach to governance. He hopes to take a practical approach to Iran's embittered international policy, and to tackle economic woes in a country still scrambling from years of sanctions.
The 64-year-old Rouhani has been called a "moderate," a "centrist," and a "pragmatist." He led three war and defense councils as commander of the Iranian air defenses, and served as national security adviser to former presidents. He's also considered an academic: Rouhani holds three law degrees from universities in Iran and Scotland, regularly publishes essays, and speaks French, Russian, English and Persian.
One of the biggest questions: Whether Rouhani's inauguration will mark an era of greater openness on the nuclear program. In yesterday's televised speech he hinted at his position.
“If you seek a suitable answer, speak to Iran through the language of respect, not through the language of sanctions," Rouhani said. As Time reports, he later added that any negotiations would require “bilateral trust building, mutual respect and the lessening of hostilities.”
Rouhani's softened tone marks a sharp contrast from his predecessor, controversial President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, whose tenure included such memorable moments as calling the Holocaust a "myth," and accusing Western powers of keeping away rain clouds during a drought. On domestic social issues, Ahmadinejad is famous for claiming Iran "has no homosexuals" and unleashing riot police on protestors during post-election controversy in 2009.
In Washington, White House spokesman Jay Carney said Rouhani's inauguration is "an opportunity for Iran to act quickly to resolve the international community's deep concerns over Iran's nuclear program."
However, some observers warn that change might be neither as imminent nor as pronounced as hoped. President Rouhani has already met with North Korean dignitaries, accused the U.S. of looking for excuses to attack, and vowed support for beleaguered Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Economic reform always takes time, not to mention patience. And while Rouhani has the endorsement of Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khameini, the extent of his presidential powers still hinges on the complexities of Iran's political system.