The US is hoping the election of Iran's most moderate presidential candidate will be a step forward in nuclear negotiations as he calls for a "new era" in Iran. It's time for the country to "follow the path of moderation and justice, not extremism," Hasan Rowhani said today in his first post-election news conference, per the AP. But he also said he would not support suspending Iran's nuclear enrichment program, one of the West's key demands. Although decisions are ultimately in the hands of the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, President Obama's foreign policy team is hurrying to learn what changes Rowhani, the "diplomat sheik," might bring, the New York Times reports.
Yesterday, Obama chief of staff Denis McDonough called the election "a potentially hopeful sign," but said Iran would have to "come clean on this illicit nuclear program." As a former nuclear negotiator, Rowhani sought a measured approach to talks with the US, but in 2004, he applauded Iranian nuclear advances that took place during a supposed suspension of nuclear enrichment, the Times notes. As for his moderate stance, "wanting to end Iran’s isolation is different from agreeing to move the nuclear program to a place where it would take them years to build a weapon," says a US official. Whatever happens, experts say action is needed quickly as Iran's program advances.