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Replying to Iranian ‘prudence and moderation’

by Mohammad Hassan Khani

Special To The Japan Times

Prudence and moderation were two key words by which newly elected Iranian President Hassan Rouhani found his way to the Presidential Palace in Tehran.

In a very close competition, the 11th presidential election of post-revolutionary Iran, a rare event in this part of the world, he managed to defeat his rivals of different political views. It is very likely that he will hold the office for two terms (until 2021), leading Iran into the next century (1400) under the Persian calendar.

By pledging to remain loyal to his election campaign slogans, “prudence and moderation,” the new president has come to power with a clear mandate of bringing positive change to the country and to its relations with the outside world.

As far as Iranian domestic politics is concerned, it seems that Rouhani’s policies will lead to more openness, rule of law, accountability, more room for free and independent media, paving the way for working of viable political parties, and establishing more professional associations and syndicates that will lead to broader and stronger civil society grassroots.

For the outside world to decide how to deal with Rouhani and his foreign policy top man. Dr. Javad Zarif, a fine diplomat (Zarif means delicate in the Persian language), it is essential to understand what prudence and moderation mean and what they don’t mean.

The Iranian definition of moderation and prudence is equal to common sense, being rational, making decisions based on wisdom and maturity, constructive interaction with the international community, distancing oneself from emotions, rhetoric and demagogy, and opposing extremism of any kind.

It also means a tendency toward detente, reconciliation and integration with neighboring countries and international system as a whole by seeking common grounds and areas of common interests between Iran and the rest of the world.

Nevertheless, for moderation and prudence to work properly and lead to tangible results, the response from the outside world and other parties, including the United States and the West, must be that of moderation and prudence, too. A dialogue based on these two virtues can surely work better than one based on extremism and insanity.

It would be a fatal mistake for the U.S. to perceive and interpret Iran’s adoption of moderation and prudence as a sign of weakness, fear or as a unilateral concession. Such a perception would again re-strengthen the old conviction and belief in Tehran, and across the Muslim world, that the West and the U.S. are not honest and trustworthy and use a language of violence, intimidation, coercion, double standards, hypocrisy and extremism.

By pursuing its old policy, the U.S. would miss a historical opportunity for finding a prudent reconciliation with Iran and political Islam. The price for such a mistake would be high for all sides.

As the Islamic Republic of Iran approaches its fourth decade, the age of maturity, it continues to evolve. It seems that its leaders have also learned how to adapt the country to realities while maintaining the ideals of the revolution that was called the last great revolution of 20th century. The West and the U.S. now have two options:

The first option is to maintain the old ailing strategy of refusal to recognize Iran and Iranian roles, and to try to isolate the country at any cost.

The second option is to accept the reality of the Islamic Republic as an important player in regional and international levels, engaging genuinely and constructively with Tehran and benefiting from the huge potential of its political and economic cooperation and contribution toward resolving crises in the region and beyond.

They have apparently tried the first option for many years without any positive and tangible results so far. Logic and common sense tell us that it is worth trying the second option now to see if it works.

Mohammad Hassan Khani is an independent Iranian academic, a graduate of Peace Studies Department at Bradford University and currently an associate professor of international relations at Imam Sadiq University in Tehran.