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Iran election: What does Hassan Rohani mean for the United States?

Iran's new president Hassan Rohani is considered a reform-minded moderate. But ruling clerics and the Revolutionary Guard remain in control of Iran's nuclear program and foreign affairs – including its close relationship with the regime of Bashar al-Assad in Syria.

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There’s been no indication that the US position differs from Israel, nor is it likely to on Syria.
 
“Although Rohani argues for constructive interactions with other countries and although he supports applying a softer political tone – as opposed to the combative, controversial and provocative language that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad or other hardliners utilize – when dealing with the international community and regional state actors in regards to Syria, Rohani has not called for an overall sweeping shift in Iran's foreign policy,” writes Middle East scholar Majid Rafizadeh on CNN’s web site Sunday. “For instance, Rohani has neither asked Assad to step down from power nor pressed to halt the Islamic Republic of Iran's military, intelligence, financial, and advisory support to Damascus.”

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Other experts see in Rohani the possibility for change here.

“Rohani is, as we say in Persian, more bazaari than resistance, meaning he’s more a dealmaker than a rigid ideologue,” Karim Sadjadpour, an Iranian American and analyst for the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, told the Washington Post. “It’s true that Iran’s existing foreign policy principles are pretty entrenched, but he may be able to impact them, at a minimum tactically.”

For President Obama and his national security team, Rohani represents “the best hope for detente with Iran,” Mr. Sadjadpour said.

For Americans, Iran’s election reflects – if nothing else – a vibrant voting democracy in a nation former present George W. Bush labeled a member of the “Axis of Evil” (along with North Korea and Iraq). Voter turnout there was estimated at 73 percent – higher than the 58 percent turnout in the 2012 US presidential election – and the winner was a political moderate who had pledged to “destroy extremism.”

But Iranians living in the United States – mostly in southern California, and largely those who had supported the Shah and fled during the 1979 revolution – remain skeptical.

“Some Iranians in Tehran are dancing in the streets. But here in Los Angeles, home to the largest community of Persians outside Iran, the reaction has been muted,” writes Robert Faturechi in the Los Angeles Times.

“It’s really sad that we’re hoping a Shia cleric is going to lead us out of the religious system,” said Siamak Kalhor, host on an Iranian-language radio station in Los Angeles, who voted absentee for Rohani. “We’re hoping a mullah is going to save us out of the mullahs’ hands…. It just shows, in hell there are certain dragons that are so scary that you find shelter among lions.”

“He is more liberal, quote unquote, than the others, but he’s not a reformist,” said Homa Sarshar, an Iranian activist and media personality. “For me, they’re all the same.”

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