- Hard-liners in Tehran have called for closer ties to China for years. The U.S. withdrawal from the nuclear agreement gave them what they wanted.
When Hassan Rouhani announced in the run-up to the 2013 presidential elections that it would be better and easier to negotiate with the United States as the “headman of the village,” it was hard to imagine at the time that seven years into his presidency, ties with the United States would have been virtually cut off and he would be negotiating a 25-year accord with China.
Rouhani is considered a moderate in Iran, and he won the 2013 race promising to de-escalate tensions with the West, standing in sharp contrast to his predecessor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who favored shifting Iran toward China.
This shift brings to public view a rivalry inside the country between Western-minded reformists and pro-China hard-liners, a clash that has been ongoing since the 1979 revolution.
The ascendance of one faction over the other at various points has had a significant impact on the direction of Iranian politics. Reformist President Mohammad Khatami’s government (from 1997 to 2005) improved its ties with European countries within the framework of his “constructive interaction” doctrine, but Ahmadinejad (who was president from 2005 to 2013), his immediate successor, chose to focus his foreign policy on building closer ties with Russia and China. At the end of Ahmadinejad’s term, as international sanctions were bringing the Iranian economy to its knees, the public wanted again to pivot back toward the West.