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.


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