Is this a real moment for something new with Iran?
Tehran’s turnaround is all the more startling in view of the eight, often bizarre, years of Mr. Rouhani’s Holocaust-denying predecessor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who relished every opportunity to ruffle the feathers of Western leaders. But Mr. Ahmadinejad’s bellicose nationalism drove Iran into a diplomatic isolation that left it with Venezuela and Syria for allies and saddled it with debilitating economic sanctions over its nuclear program, analysts said.
Those sanctions have more than halved Iran’s oil sales, from 2.4 million barrels a day in 2011 to less than 1 million now, and inflation has spiked; the currency, the rial, has fallen by half. It was the danger of falling even deeper into this economic abyss, possibly threatening their hold on power, that prompted Iran’s leaders to mend ties not only with the West but with their own people, who desperately want more personal freedoms, analysts say.