Honesty Still not the Best Policy for Nuclear Iran

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Reading through the transcript of this week’s ABC interview with Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif raises many questions regarding his sincerity (as well as that of his bosses, Khamenei and Rouhani).

On Nuclear Transparency

When asked about any open issues between Iran and the IAEA, he made it sound as if Tehran’s nuclear program was totally transparent and had received the IAEA’s seal of approval.

ZARIF: And the IAEA said that although Iran had not declared these activities, now that we see those activities, none of them had been diverted to military use. So there is no question that Iran never had military intentions.

FACT: The September 2011 IAEA report shows that the “the Agency is increasingly concerned about the possible existence in Iran of past or current undisclosed nuclear related activities involving military related organizations, including activities related to the development of a nuclear payload for a missile.”

Add to that further non-transparency activities such as the clean-up in the Parchin military base. “No question that Iran ever had military intentions”? Depends on who’s talking.

To refresh his memory, Mr. Zarif should take some time to read David Albright and Christina Walrond’s ISIS report, “An Appeal to Iran“.

On the Nuclear Fatwa

ZARIF:  Our leader has a religious verdict that the use of nuclear weapons, even possession of nuclear weapons, is contrary to religious doctrine.

The first problem is that this particular fatwa, unlike thousands of others, was never publicly presented by Khamenei – let alone shown or approved by the government and parliament in Tehran.

The second problem is the actual nature of all fatwas: they can be rescinded by Khamenei at any time by simply saying so – that’s the by-law of this law. Or as Rouhani stated in his own thesis: “No laws in Islam are immutable

On Enriching Uranium

ZARIF: … We have not been able to get a single gram of uranium from them for the past 30-some years.

It sounds so simple. Nobody’s selling Tehran 20% enriched uranium, so Tehran fulfills its rights to enrich its own uranium.

Zarif must not be aware of the international community’s repeated offers to supply Iran with uranium all the way back in 2009. Tehran, to date, has refused to take advantage of this offer which would definitely reduce suspicions.

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On the “Myth of the Holocaust”

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Is the Holocaust a myth?

ZARIF: No, the Holocaust is not a myth. Nobody is talking about the myth. It’s a — if it’s said, I haven’t seen it.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Says it right there.

ZARIF: If it’s said, it’s a bad translation, and it is translated out of context that they have — they are using it. He was talking about the reaction to somebody talking about the historical incident and requiring research about that historical incident and said, what is it that people are upset that somebody is simply asking that we should do some studies of that? …

Better to listen to Khamenei’s exact words.

Western countries allow no freedom of expression, which they claim to advocate, with regard to the myth of the massacre of Jews known as the holocaust, and nobody in the West enjoys the freedom of expression to deny it or raise doubts about it.”

Mr. Zarif – with all due respect to your position and in regards to the regime in Tehran, Khamenei’s word is law…yours still isn’t.

Bottom line: Rouhani has changed the overall tone of voice, and he should be welcomed for doing so. Too bad the old lyrics still ring true.

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Thoughts on Rouhani’s Address at the UN

 

 

 

The Tone Changed but the Song Remains the Same

Rouhani’s speech at the UN General Assembly is a great study in rhetoric and political schizophrenia.

Were one to read parts of Rouhani’s speech at the UN General Assembly, one might believe that it was Obama on the podium: numerous mentions of hope (14 times) peace (8 times), moderation (6 times), change (4 times) and democracy (4 times). These anchors of good will were backed by several denouncements of extremism and racism, an open hand to the US (“Iran…does not seek to increase tensions with the United States”).

But, of course, Rouhani’s speech did not end there. The rest of his speech is filled with inconsistencies, ambivalence, veiled threats and a large sprinkling of hypocrisy.

Rouhani should have spoken unequivocally about the three issues that would bring about a real change in the discourse of the West (or the North, as Rouhani smartly put it thus excluding South America) with Iran, but did not:

  • Iran’s general disrespect of human rights at home
  • Iran’s military and financial support of Assad
  • Iran’s consistent transgressions of UN and IAEA guide lines

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Rights for Iran but not for Iranians

As far as human rights were concerned, Rouhani said absolutely nothing.

Actually, that’s not true.

He did talk about the “need to promote and reinforce tolerance” and that “human society should be elevated from a state of mere tolerance” but he wasn’t talking about tolerance at home. Rouhani is asking for tolerance for Iran but he is withholding that tolerance for the Iranian people who are living under an extremist law which disrespects their basic human rights.

He then went on to attack the effects of economic sanctions which “violate inalienable human rights, inter alia, the right to peace, right to development, right to access to health and education, and above all, the right to life…(and), cause belligerence, warmongering and human suffering” but there was no mention of the rights of women, gays and countless minorities whose rights, and in too many case, their rights  were stolen from them.

No Intervention in Syria (Except by Iran)

As to the burning issue of Iran’s support of Assad’s regime, Rouhani’s speech can only be deemed hypocritical.

Rouhani expounded on the “human tragedy in Syria” as “a painful example of catastrophic spread of violence and extremism in our region”. He then went on to say, that Iran had warned  the international community that “militarizing” the situation through infusion of arms and intelligence into the country and active support of extremist groups” was not a viable solution.

Rouhani went on to “defend peace based on democracy and the ballot box everywhere, including in Syria” while ignoring the fact that Assad is in power not through a ballot box but through a bloodline and a strong arm.

Finally he added that the “Pursuit of expansionist strategies and objectives and attempts to change the regional balance through proxies cannot be camouflaged behind humanitarian rhetoric.”

Rouhani must have momentarily ” forgotten” that Iran has openly supported Assad politically, financially and militarily from the outset by issuing a line of credit of $5 Billion, by deploying Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) troops and officers, as well as its proxy Hezbollah troops, and by regularly shipping military equipment.

Ready to Talk on the Nuclear Issue, But…

Rouhani did talk quite directly about the nuclear issue that has led to the breakdown of fruitful communications between Iran and the UN/West. It is Iran’s repeated transgressions from IAEA guidelines that have led to what he lamentably called the  “imaginary threat…the so-called “Iranian threat””.

He stated the usual Tehran dismissal of any military aspect to the Iranian nuclear program (“Nuclear weapon and other weapons of mass destruction have no place in Iran’s security and defense doctrine…our national interests make it imperative that we remove any and all reasonable concerns about Iran’s peaceful nuclear program”) and he stated his willingness to “engage immediately in time-bound and result-oriented talks to build mutual confidence and removal of mutual uncertainties with full transparency” which will definitely be a favorite sound bite / headline for optimists around the world.

And yet, Rouhani has still not made any part of Iran’s suspect nuclear program any more transparent and Iran is still, to this date, openly transgressing numerous IAEA guidelines.  Furthermore, he made it quite clear that Iran would continue Uranium enrichment and stated the obvious: “Nuclear knowledge in Iran has been domesticated now and the nuclear technology, inclusive of enrichment, has already reached industrial scale. It is, therefore, an illusion, and extremely unrealistic, to presume that the peaceful nature of the nuclear program of lran could be ensured through impeding the program via illegitimate pressures.”

And lastly, there is the veiled threat that featured at the beginning of his speech: “Any miscalculation of one’s position, and of course, of others, will bear historic damages”.

At the end of the day, Rouhani’s speech seems to have been targeted to Khamenei and other leaders at home  and not the leaders in the West who might change their views on Iran.

So much for hope, peace and change.

Tehran’s Great White Hope

Rouhani Elected to Change

On September 24, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani will address the UN General Assembly in New York, and is also expected to attend the high-level meeting of the General Assembly on Nuclear Disarmament two days later. His appearances at these events will be closely monitored for concrete indications of winds of change from Tehran.

On the face of it, Iran’s president will have an easy time of it after years of his predecessor’s rhetoric against the West, the UN, gays and Jews. But Rouhani has set the bar – and expectations – much higher than that.

Tips for Rouhani

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For Rouhani to project real change, he should follow these guidelines while in New York:

Don’t ignore Ahmadinejad:  If Rouhani keeps silent about the issues that granted his predecessor near-leper status – especially denial of the Holocaust and the existence of gays in Iran – his visit will amount to a lost opportunity. Rehashing historical wrongs, placing blame on western powers, and emphasizing theological arguments simply won’t cut it.

Aim high and shoot low: Rouhani will succeed only if he projects strategic change – but even then he’ll need to back his assurances with definite timelines and specific tactical objectives. Without these, Rouhani will join a growing list of “Teflon” politicians who talk and talk – but don’t walk their talk.

Guarded Optimism

Rouhani’s oratory style has been a welcome departure from the roughness of his predecessor. However, so far his comments have failed to clarify whether he takes issue fundamentally with the strategic vision held by Iran’s leadership – starting with Supreme Leader Khamenei.

On the eve of his arrival in New York, it would be wrong to turn a blind eye to Rouhani’s opposition to UN Security Council and IAEA resolutions calling for a suspension of Tehran’s nuclear activities – not to mention his support for Iranian allies Syria and Hezbollah.

This is precisely the reason why his UN appearances hold so much promise: there he will hold in his hands the power to signal change.  Stay tuned.

Rouhani Tweets for Change

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Rouhani Wants Us to Believe in Change

President Rouhani intends to change Iran’s foreign policy – no doubt about that.

In any case, President Rouhani should thank his predecessor for lowering the bar to such an extent so that even a small “baby-step” may be viewed as a “giant leap”.

The Medium is the Message

A microcosm of Rouhani’s ideals for change can be found in his twitter account.

The fact that he chose twitter as a medium is in itself a change that is appealing to his Western audience.

In all the following cases you will notice that Rouhani communicates change whether it be in the content itself or in its tone & style so as to be more appealing to the West.

“Bring Back a Smile”

The following tweet exemplifies Rouhani’s strategy: In it, he states that his goal is to “bring back a smile” and to “protect this #love, #trust and #hope”.

smile

Accepting NPT/IAEA Guidelines

The most pressing issue for Rouhani’s government is obviously the nuclear issue and Rouhani makes it clear to the West in general and to the P5+1 negotiators that Iran’s nuclear program will adhere to NPT and the country’s bilateral agreements with the IAEA – no mention of the Agency’s resolutions, and of course not of Security Council decisions. There also is no mention of a timeline or specific key issues such as the nuclear plants in Arak and Qom and the military base in Parchin.

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In an earlier tweet, Rouhani placed the responsibility for nuclear negotiations in the hands of the Foreign Ministry and the “constructive interaction with the world” is definitely meant to project a welcome change to the West.

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 Rouhani’s “US friends”

Here, Rouhani manages to downgrade an Iranian threat against (US) “action against Syria” to a friendly warning by adding “US friends” – a far cry from the familiar term “Arrogant Power,” not to mention the bellicose statements coming from other officials in Tehran.

friendz

 

Jewish New Year and Holocaust Denial

Last week, Rouhani took everyone by surprise by tweeting his wishes for a “Blessed Rosh Hashanah,” causing the HuffPost to gush that Rouhani’s efforts have reached “unthinkable heights“.

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The amount of retweets just goes to show how popular this type of message is.

This tweet was echoed by Foreign Minister Zarif’s own wishes of a “Happy Rosh Hashanah” which was immediately retweeted by Rouhani himself.

Zarif’s wishes took a dramatic turn when he placed the blame of Holocaust denial squarely on Ex-President Ahmadinejad – Rouhani conspicuously did not retweet this message.

holocaust

“Educated, Capable & Powerful” Women in Iran

By naming a Mrs. Afkham as the Foreign Ministry’s spokesperson, Rouhani reinforced an earlier tweet which expressed that Iranian women are “educated, capable & powerful” and that he wanted to “ensure equal opportunity” in his government. Of course, the fact that there are no women in his cabinet is not mentioned.

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Conclusions (For Now)

Rouhani is working very hard to project change on many fronts. Not at the strategic policy level, for sure, but what he is doing in itself represents change from his predecessor.

Here is a man who knows how to talk to the West and who understands that in order for the West to listen to him, he will have to offer “proof” of his sincerity. This “proof” cannot be only skin-deep.

To this end, two significant questions will require an answer: Will he add a timetable and details that will turn his general message of change into a concrete plan? Will the powers that be in Tehran –especially Khamenei and the IRGC – permit him to do so?

They didn’t allow Khatami.