Last week, White House press secretary Jay Carney said that Hassan Rowhani’s election as Iranian president represents “a call by the Iranian people for change” and “an opportunity for Iran to act quickly to resolve the international community’s deep concerns over Iran’s nuclear program.” Nevertheless, this may prove to be wishful thinking.
Recent satellite imagery analyzed by Jane’s Intelligence Review confirmed the continuing construction of a launch site being specifically designed for testing ballistic missiles. If Rowhani has any desire to prove that he is a moderate reformer and not just an insider from the previous administration, he can begin by resolving this issue.
According to the analysis, the site “will be a strategic facility used to test ballistic missiles, leaving the other two sites free to handle Iran’s ambitious program of satellite launches.” All three sites use long-range ballistic technology, meaning they can easily be used for military purposes.
With Carney’s announcement, it appears that the Obama Administration may be forgoing fact for fiction when it endorses the idea that rogue regimes can change policy direction and ideology in one election. It’s true that Rowhani was the most moderate candidate in the field, thus making it a surprise when he won the election. Nevertheless, one can hardly say it was an election in direct contrast to Iran’s status quo. Rather, it was more of a selection.
Ultimately, Iran’s constitution grants the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the authority to overrule any president in any policy decision. Additionally, it is no secret that the ayatollah decides who even appears on the ballot. In other words, the ayatollah gives himself a win-win situation where he can feign the democratic process while retaining the right to overrule any presidential decision he so chooses.
Before the election occurred James Phillips, The Heritage Foundation’s senior research fellow for Middle Eastern affairs, predicted that even if Rowhani won, “it would make little difference in Iran’s policies on the issues most important to the United States: nuclear weapons, terrorism, Syria, and human rights [because] the Supreme Leader is the key decision maker on these policies and has the final say on all important issues in Iran.”
Iran’s nuclear and ballistic missile ambitions underline the need for a robust missile defense system, which would provide the necessary coverage to mitigate the Iranian threat against the United States and its allies.
Joshua Holdenried is currently a member of the Young Leaders Program at The Heritage Foundation. For more information on interning at Heritage, please click here.