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What Rouhani does benefit from, is the fact that he is not his predecessor: Where former president Ahmadinejad was confrontational and parochial, Rouhani is more collegial and worldly. His cabinet is full of ministers with advanced degrees from Western universities –– indeed, his cabinet has more members holding PhDs from US universities than does President Obama’s.
Rouhani is counting on the perception of Iran as a country with significant unfulfilled economic potential. Iran has an internal market of over 70 milion people, and a highly educated workforce. The prospective end of sanctions has already excited potential investors: As one investment banker noted, Iran “is the last major opportunity out there in the world that can suddenly become accessible, almost overnight”.
The nuclear negotiations in and of themselves represent a significant improvement in US-Iranian relations in that the two sides have been in deep and prolonged face-to-face negotiations for the first time since the relationship broke down in the aftermath of the revolution. Beyond a nuclear deal, Rouhani is looking to establish some form of working relationship with Washington.
The end of Ahmadinejad’s presidency has already gone some way to improving relations between Iran and a number of its Gulf neighbours. Kuwait’s emir visited Tehran for the first time in June 2014 and met with the Supreme Leader. This followed on from the UAE’s reopening of its diplomatic relations with Iran in November 2013 with a very public display of camaraderie between foreign ministers in Tehran.
Rouhani has also made positive noises about reducing differences between Tehran and Riyadh. Foreign Minister Zarif personally offered his condolences in Riyadh following the death of King Abdullah in January 2015.
Rouhani’s use of social media to wish a happy Rosh Hashana to Jews around the world, as well as financial support to Tehran’s only Jewish hospital, have been high-profile acts designed to signal a departure from previous confrontational policy approaches.
Turkey has increasingly good relations with Iran. Turkey sees Iran as a potentially lucrative export market for its goods and services.