1 JULY 2013


Innocent bystanders would not know the difference between white turbans and black turbans . While white is worn by any learned Shiite cleric, even if he becomes "a reference" (Hujjatul_islam) while a black turban is reserved for those supposedly descending from the family of the Prophet.

Although newly-elected Iranian President Hassan Rouhani wears a white turban, he is a member of the revolutionary system in Iran. A photograph of Sayed Ali Khammeni, the Supreme Guide, in a black turban, receiving him upon his election, would display how happy both are on the occasion. After all, both have travelled a long road together. The difference is in style and approach - and possibly timing.

Mainstream Western press like senior officials in London, Washington and Paris who have enthusiastically endorsed the outcome of the new open elections will find out that there is a window of opportunity but within a very clear framework. Rouhani himself pointed out that a confidence-building measure he tried a decade earlier while negotiating on a nuclear issue is now bypassed by events. A new situation in Iran requires a new approach abroad by both sides.

There are obviously hopeful signs - one relates to relations between Iran and Saudi Arabia, and most likely channels are already opened between the U.S. and representatives of the new leadership. Geneva, a discrete oasis particularly during summer days, would be a likely back-channel location. The importance of the elections is that they offer every side an opportunity to seek a more positive relationship or at least avert a confrontation. Mr. Rouhani has purposely selected the "key" as his logo, meaning that he would like to unlock several doors. What response he gets depends on many elements including what precisely he has to offer.