Goodbye, Ahmadinejad: Rouhani takes over as Iran’s president

Posted at 10:12 AM, Aug 04, 2013
and last updated 2013-08-04 10:12:37-04

By CNN Staff

(CNN) — Iran’s new President Hassan Rouhani took the oath of office Sunday, replacing controversial President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Rouhani, 65, a cleric considered moderate, won the June elections with reformist backing. He campaigned on a “hope and prudence” platform in which he appealed to traditional conservatives and reform-minded voters alike.

He pledged to improve the economy and unemployment. And as a former nuclear negotiator, he vowed to reduce the high tension between Iran and the outside world by addressing sanctions related to Iran’s nuclear program.

A former commander of the Iranian air defenses, Rouhani led three war and defense councils. He was national security adviser to the president for 13 years before Ahmadinejad took office.

He has three law degrees, including a doctorate from a university in Scotland. As president of Iran’s strategic research center, he regularly publishes essays.

The Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is Iran’s supreme leader.

Rouhani will be a “far more powerful president than Ahmadinejad would have ever dreamt — or even, before him, anybody else,” says Hamid Dabashi, a professor of Iranian studies and comparative literature at Columbia University.

“Because his revolutionary credentials are absolutely impeccable. He’s very close to Khamenei” and to the “security and military establishment,” Dabashi told CNN’s “Fareed Zakaria GPS.”

Still, he won’t have the power to make a deal with the West on his own, says Dabashi. “Iran is a very complicated regime consisting of security, intelligence, military and clerical establishments and a network.”

Nazila Fathi, who was a New York Times correspondent in Tehran for 10 years, says Rouhani “is not a reformist, even according to Iranian standards. He had backed the violent crackdown against the pro-democracy student movement in 1999 and never formally aligned himself with the reformist camp.”

Also, it’s not clear whether Khamenei’s “hard-line allies will allow Rouhani to introduce real change,” Fathi, now with Harvard’s Belfer Center, wrote in a column for

“The president sets the tone for domestic and foreign policy and can make room for more moderate voices in politics. But he holds little power compared with the authority that the constitution gives Khamenei. If Khamenei is willing to end international pressure over Iran’s nuclear program, Rouhani provides the perfect opportunity.

CNN’s Shirzad Bozorgmehr, Michael Martinez, Ben Brumfield and Josh Levs contributed to this report.

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