I met Hassan Rouhani at a stressful time — in 2003, just as the International Atomic Energy Agency was uncovering concealed nuclear activities in Iran. Rouhani was then President Mohammed Khatami’s insightful, pragmatic National Security Adviser; he was keen to seek a political solution through direct dialogue with the U.S. On his watch, Iran suspended sensitive nuclear activities as a gesture of goodwill until negotiations were completed. The Iranian media nicknamed him the Diplomat Sheik.
It took the West a decade to realize that bare-knuckle competition for regional influence was not a viable strategy for dealing with Iran. The recent interim agreement, facilitated by Rouhani’s low-key diplomacy, could have been reached 10 years ago. With mutual respect, confidence building and compromise, this step can be translated into a broad security and cooperation agreement, paving the way for a grand bargain with the West and a sea change in regional security and stability. Rouhani’s moderate leadership offers an opportunity that must not be missed: too much is at stake.
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