"Fareed Zakaria GPS," Sundays at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. ET on CNN
Fareed speaks with CNN about the election of Hassan Rouhani as Iranian president, how he compares with outgoing President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and who really holds power in the country.
Beyond the rhetoric, how different are these two as far as their actual beliefs and approach to the nuclear program that Iran has launched?
They’re quite different. They're different in tone – you can see that. They're also different in that Ahmadinejad was a layperson, whereas Rouhani comes out of the clerical establishment. It makes him probably more capable of navigating.
The problem, however, is there's a deep structural contradiction within the Iranian system. The president doesn’t have much power on these core foreign policy and national security issues. Those are held by the supreme leader. Remember, the last two presidents of Iran have, by the end of their terms, fallen afoul of the supreme leader completely. Mohammad Khatami did start out as a reformist. He's now under a form of house arrest.
Ahmadinejad started out in some ways as an opponent of the clerical system. He's discredited. The supreme leader doesn't like him. So the real question is will the supreme leader look at the results? And now you have 20 years of polling where the Iranian people are basically saying, we want conciliation, we want reconciliation with the West, we want to join the modern world.
Will he look at that data and say, I'm going to give this president, who has the right credentials, some leeway to try to negotiate with the Americans, or will he do what he has done for the last 10 years, which is he lets them make these statements, he even lets them explore some things, but at the end of the day, the supreme leader and the Revolutionary Guard pull back the chain when it seems as though there is an actual concession about to be made?