Who Is Hassan Rouhani?
Born in Sorkheh, Iran, in 1948, Hassan Rouhani studied Islam at an early age and later earned degrees in law. An early supporter of Ayatollah Khomeini, he held a string of important government posts following the Iranian Revolution of 1979. Rouhani was elected president of Iran in 2013, his desire to engage in diplomacy with Western powers leading to a landmark nuclear agreement in 2015. He was re-elected in 2017 in a decisive win against hardline populist Ebrahim Raisi.
Iranian president Hassan Rouhani was born Hassan Feridon on November 12, 1948, in Sorkheh, Iran. His family was opposed to the Shah, thus exposing him to national political concerns at an early age. He began studying religion as a youth and attended religious seminaries in the 1960s, learning from prominent Shia scholars; eventually he took the surname Rouhani, which means "community of clerics."
Rouhani enrolled at the University of Tehran in 1969 and graduated three years later with his bachelor's degree in judicial law. He went back to school in the '90s, earning his master’s degree and Ph.D. from Glasgow Caledonian University in Scotland.
After receiving his undergraduate degree, Rouhani traveled across Iran to voice his opposition to the Shah and his support for the exiled cleric Ruhollah Khomeini. Forced to flee the country in 1977, he joined Khomeini in Paris and spoke to student groups across Europe. After the 1979 Iranian Revolution, Rouhani returned to Iran with Khomeini to rebuild the government.
As part of Ayatollah Khomeini's new regime, Rouhani assumed a string of important governmental positions: member of the Supreme Defense Council (1982-88), commander of the Iranian air defenses (1985-91), deputy commander of Iran's armed forces (1988-89), national security adviser to the president (1989-97) and secretary of the Supreme National Security Council (1989-2005).
As secretary of the Supreme National Security Council, Rouhani served as the lead negotiator for Iran during nuclear talks with the West, his demeanor and clerical background earning him the nickname "diplomat sheikh." When Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, of whom Rounhani was a vocal critic, became president in 2005, Rouhani resigned from his post as secretary after 16 years.
President of Iran
At the end of Ahmadinejad's second term, Rouhani ran for president against several hardline candidates and won with more than 50 percent of the vote, taking more votes than all five of the other candidates put together. Promising moderation, rationality and more engagement with the outside world, Rouhani called for opening talks with the West and placed the economy ahead of his country's nuclear program in terms of priorities.
Rouhani was sworn in on August 4, 2013, becoming Iran's seventh president. His "moderation and wisdom" campaign slogan was a success, and his victory signaled a more progressive direction for Iran's future.
Giving his first speech as president of Iran, Rouhani said, "This victory is the victory of wisdom, moderation and awareness over fanaticism and bad behavior." He wasted no time in asserting himself in international politics. That September, Rouhani traveled to New York to visit the United Nations. He gave a speech to the UN General Assembly, insisting that his country was "absolutely no threat to the world," according to a Telegraph newspaper report. Rouhani explained that Iran was developing nuclear technology for purely peaceful uses.
Nuclear Agreement and Reelection
Rouhani's expressed nuclear goals led to a landmark agreement with Western powers in July 2015. Under the terms, Iran agreed to scale back nuclear research and output over the course of 15 years in exchange for the loosening of economic sanctions, a deal Rouhani trumpeted as a "new page in history."
In May 2017, Rouhani was reelected in a decisive win against hardline populist Ebrahim Raisi. He won 57 percent of the vote, according to Iran's Interior Ministry, in an election where 70 percent of Iran's 56 million voters participated.
Despite Rouhani's insistence that nuclear power was being used in his country for peaceful, innovative purposes, the agreement was seemingly under constant fire from conservative Western voices. U.S. President Donald Trump, for one, demanded that European powers "fix the terrible flaws" of the deal before he agreed to waive U.S. sanctions for another round in May 2018.
Rouhani responded with his own tough talk: "Iran will not violate the nuclear deal, but if the United States withdraws from the deal, they will surely regret it," he said in an April 2018 speech on live television. "Our response will be stronger than what they imagine and they would see that within a week."
A Shiite Muslim, Rouhani has written extensively about religion and other subjects, including a three-volume collection on Islamic political thought and his memoirs. He has four children with his wife, Sahebeh.
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