Hassan Rouhani, Iran's new moderate president, is already facing a clash of interests with the conservative-dominated Iranian parliament. His cabinet recommendations for the posts of oil minister and foreign minister, both of whom are moderate candidates, have faced fierce criticism from the conservatives in the parliament. By law, the parliament must approve these appointments. Considering the conservatives' reaction to Rouhani’s very first attempts to push towards moderation, it is difficult to be optimistic about any substantial changes in Iran’s state of affairs, especially regarding its foreign policy.
With the election of Hassan Rouhani, many hoped for a toned down foreign policy. However, unless Supreme Leader Khamenei, who calls all the major foreign policy shots and vetoes proposals he does not approve, along with other conservatives are convinced of a need for a more moderate approach in light of deteriorating Iranian domestic conditions, little change can occur.
Rouhani’s recommendations for oil minister and foreign minister have excellent credentials. Bijan Namdar Zanganeh, his choice for oil minister, held the job under former President Khatami’s administration from 1997 to 2005, years considered the most highly successful for Iran’s oil industry. He has pledged to restore oil production to its previous highs.
Mohammad Javad Zarif, Rouhani's nominee for foreign minister, was educated at the University of Denver. Despite his broad experience handling foreign affairs, his a time as ambassador to the United Nations from 2002 to 2007 has drawn particular concern from the conservative establishment as it marked his assimilation to the U.S.
As conservatives are displaying such a stern attitude towards moderation in the Iranian parliament, a moderate president might be fruitless. Sanctions imposed by the west coupled with an inept handling of the economy by former President Ahmadinejad’s government have led to an unemployment rate of 13% and an inflation rate of 32%. The havoc that the sanctions have inflicted on the Iranian economy,to the extent that life-saving drugs are in shortage, can only be lifted if both Iran and the international community, specifically the U.S., display flexibility and reach a compromise.
Such a compromise and a subsequent improvement in conditions for the Iranian people will only happen if Khamenei and the conservatives who dominate the parliament agree to tone down their ambitions and negotiate a deal regarding their pursuit of nuclear weapons and lifting trade sanctions. For now, however, as is evident in the fierce opposition to Rouhani’s very first moderate moves, the attitude of the conservatives and Khamenei remains unperturbed.