Questions about Zarif as Rouhani’s second term agenda emerges

Al Monitor | Ali Hashem: It will not be an easy second term for recently re-elected Iranian President Hassan Rouhani. With the Middle East on fire as never before, the United States led by Donald Trump and Iran already at war in Iraq and Syria, flexibility is not in abundance for the new government in Tehran. Rather it might be that the moderate president and his foreign policy team are going to be gradually pushed in the direction of becoming hawks. The latest stances by Rouhani and his foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, on regional issues suggest that their rhetoric is already changing.

“The Iranian nation has decided to be powerful,” Rouhani told reporters in his first remarks after being re-elected. “Our missiles are for peace and for defense.” He added, “American officials should know that whenever we need to technically test a missile, we will do so and will not wait for their permission.”

One must ask, what is Tehran’s foreign policy going to look like in Rouhani’s second term? Iran’s main framework for engagement with the international community remains the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, agreed to in July 2015. The nuclear deal is Rouhani’s first-term foreign policy asset, and in his second term, he will be looking to preserve the agreement and build on its positive elements.

“On the nuclear deal, he may have an easier job internally, as all his rivals stressed [during the election campaign] that they too would have safeguarded the deal,” Adnan Tabatabai, CEO of the Bonn-based Center for Applied Research in Partnership with the Orient, told Al-Monitor in Tehran.

Tabatabai added, “At the same time, it will require major diplomatic skills to on the one hand push back the hostile policies of the US while at the same time keep relations with Europe and the rest of the P5+1 [Britain, France, Russia, China and the United States plus Germany] intact.”

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