Centrifuges Spin on as West Sizes Up 'New' Iran

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JERUSALEM, Israel -- After eight bombastic years under former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Iran has a new president. His name is Sayyed Hassan Rowhani.

Iran's new leader is Western educated, speaks six languages, and comes with a long resume in Iran's Islamic revolution.

Unlike his abrasive predecessor, he presents a softer image. His election led some Western leaders and media pundits to brand the new president a moderate who can change Iran.

But Hebrew University Prof. Moshe Sharon said Rowhani differs from Ahmadinejad in style but not in substance.

"Nothing is going to change. There's going to be a new style. There's going to be an oriental bazaar," Sharon told CBN News.

"He will give the feeling that something new has been created in Iran, especially when he speaks about peace," he explained. "He speaks about dialogue of civilizations, that's very important this term."

"The word dialogue is a word very much loved by the West and he knows it," Sharon continued. "So you should expect in the coming few months some sort of an overture by this nice looking man. He has a fatherly face and speaks the right language, speaks the language that he knows the West wants to hear while exactly continuing the plan of Iran to enrich uranium."

Iranian expert Thamar Gindin of Haifa University's Ezri Center said Rowhani is "high up in Shi'ite Islam." 

"He's a clergy…a high degree of clergy -- not an ayatollah but pretty high up in the ranks of Shi'ite Islam," Gindin told CBN News, saying all eight presidential candidates were carefully vetted.

"Rowhani will do what he's told because the Guardian Council already screened out the problematic candidates like Rfansgani and Ami Shari so now each one of the eight candidates would have been loyal to Khamenei, including Rowhani," she explained.

While the president is the "face" of Iran, the real power lies with Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei.

"Don't think that Rowhani is going to develop his own policy," Sharon said. "There's not going to be such a thing. He's going to present a policy that is going to be continued to be created by the supreme leader."

"The people think that here we have a new president. We have a president who fixes the policy. That's not true. He's not going to fix the policy. He's not going to shape the policy. The policy is going to be shaped by only one person and that is Khamanei and he is the supreme leader," Sharon said.

Gindin said a cartoon posted on Facebook showing Rowhani painting a beautiful missile depicts the essence of his election.

"But it's still a missile. It looks much better, but it's still a missile. And he said himself he's not going to stop the centrifuges," she said.
In addition to the nuclear program, Gindin expects other major foreign policies, such as Iran's support of Syria and alliance with Russia, to remain the same under the new president.

Rowhani also has a long history in a regime that persecutes Christians, tortures dissidents and has built the world's largest terror network.

When Rowhani served as Iran's chief nuclear negotiator, he boasted about advancing the country's nuclear program during his negotiations.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu calls that game "talk and enrich," one that provides breathing room for Iran's nuclear program and could make him more dangerous than Ahmadinejad.

"He can be more dangerous from this point of view -- that he will say things that you want to hear," Netanyahu said. "That's a different story altogether. Ahmadinejad did not say things that you wanted to hear. He said things that he thought the people of Iran wanted to hear. But now this person is going to say things that the West wants to hear."

Sharon warns the West might be headed to an unfamiliar oriental bazaar.

"Everybody who was in the oriental bazaar and knows the negotiations in the oriental bazaar knows that there are certain rules. Unfortunately, the West doesn't know the rules of the oriental bazaar," he said.

While the West takes stock of Iran's new president, both Gindin and Sharon say the centrifuges will keep spinning while the Islamic Republic draws closer to its nuclear bomb.

"The danger is because he's nicer he can buy more time, and then it might be too late," Gindin said.

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CBN News
Chris Mitchell

Chris Mitchell

CBN News Middle East Bureau Chief

In a time where the world's attention is riveted on events in the Middle East, CBN viewers have come to appreciate Chris Mitchell's timely reports from this explosive region of the world. Mitchell brings a Biblical and prophetic perspective to these daily news events that shape our world.