The victory of Hassan Rowhani in Iran's presidential election Friday is the best outcome that the United States could have expected.
Mr. Rowhani, 64, was the most moderate of the six candidates remaining in the race after Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and Iran's Guardian Council had eliminated others in advance. It was also a surprise that Mr. Rowhani received more than 50 percent of the vote, avoiding the need for a run-off. Voter turnout also was larger than anticipated, given the disorder and disappointment that accompanied the last election in 2009.
All of that, however, should not give rise to unreasonable hopes on the part of the United States in its so far unsuccessful attempts to engage in fruitful dialogue with the Tehran government, at least on its nuclear program. Mr. Rowhani, like all of the presidential candidates, was approved in advance by Iran's supreme leader, who, backed by the Revolutionary Guards and the conservative ayatollahs who run the country, will retain his veto over the president's actions. The term "moderate" applied to Mr. Rowhani is, in effect, a relative term.
Second, the position taken by Mr. Rowhani and all the other candidates was one of categoric opposition to U.S. demands that Iran give up its nuclear program. The United States claims that Iran intends to develop nuclear weapons, but Iran maintains that its program is designed to provide it with a nuclear energy capacity so it can export its oil. Iran's leaders are unanimous in their fury at American efforts to use economic sanctions, which have damaged its economy, to force it to knuckle under on development of its nuclear capacity.
The administration of President Barack Obama has already invited Mr. Rowhani to talk, in spite of admonitions to the contrary from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Such an invitation is an excellent means to measure Mr. Rowhani's mettle at the start of his four-year term and the length of the new president's leash.