Despite Rouhani's first steps towards a new Iran, Israel remains doubtful
Tehran (AsiaNews) - In stark contrast with the years of isolation and tensions under Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Iran's new president, Hassan Rouhani, has successfully laid out a reformist agenda since he took office on 3 August. It includes a call for fresh talks about his country's nuclear programme, renewed efforts to rebuild an economy devastated by years of economic sanctions, and an emphasis on the need for greater openness in the cultural field and the arts.
For many Iranians, Rouhani's positive impulse to the country is real. One example came on 4 September, when Iranian officials posted a message on Twitter congratulating Jews on Jewish New Year (Rosh Hashanah). Although the president did not write it, he did not reject the content of the message and a few days later opened his own official account.
On 6 September, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif also acknowledged the Holocaust. Saying that Iran was never anti-Semitic, he noted that "The man who was perceived to be denying it is now gone."
Iranians appreciate such small signs of openness. Nima Chehreh, a young Iranian student living in Germany, told AsiaNews that "fortunately for us there are changes; this is not just rhetoric."
Citing as an example the recent reopening of the House of Cinema, after it was closed during Ahmadinejad's term of office, she explained, "We are proud that the foreign policy of our country is changing and that many Western governments have begun to talk to us".
At the same time, "There are rumours that Mousavi and Karroubi will be released very soon," she added. The two former presidential candidates led the Green Wave in 2009 and have been under house arrest ever since.
"Of course we made some progress," Nima Chehreh said. "The question is now how much more and how quickly we can continue." In fact, a desire for greater freedom is palpable everywhere.
Ayatollah Masumi Tehrani spoke in favour of the Baha'i and other ethnic and religious minorities. "I hope," he said, "that one day in this country Shias, Sunnis, Zoroastrians, Christians, Jews, Baha'is and even atheists have equal rights and are accorded the same respect. It is in such a society that talents flourish and the country is strengthened. Thankfully, this positive development is spreading in Iranian society, and it is becoming institutionalized. Hopefully this trend will continue."
As a sign of this, Iranian President Hasan Rouhani added another woman to his cabinet Tuesday, appointing reformist Masoumeh Ebtekar as vice president to lead the environmental protection organisation. She joins Elham Aminzadeh, who was appointed as vice president for legal affairs last month. Another key woman in the administration is Marzieh Afkham, the Foreign Ministry's first-ever spokesperson.
Perhaps, the most important change over the previous administration came with the appointment of Javad Zarif to the post of foreign minister and chief nuclear negotiator.
The move shows that the president wants nuclear talks to be in the hands of the government, not Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei.
As Iran's envoy to the UN, Mr Zarif served has experience in New York and Washington and in negotiating with the West.
In an interview with state-controlled Press TV, he said that Iran's nuclear programme must be developed under the supervision of the International Atomic Energy Agency.
Despite all the right words, Israel is not convinced by the moderation shown by Rouhani and Iranian government officials with regards to their country's nuclear programme, dismissing it as a lot of window-dressing.
Referring to Iran, Israeli delegate Ehud Azoulay said he saw no "change in their [nuclear] policy," even if the rhetoric coming out of Tehran under Rouhani is more low-key.
Of particular concern is in fact the appointment of Mostafa Pourmohammadi as Iran's new Justice Minister.
As Deputy Intelligence Minister, Pourmohammadi was directly involved in the execution of thousands of political prisoners in 1988.