(Washington, D.C.) — It was an odd day at the United Nations. In some ways, it went as planned. In other ways, not so much.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani delivered his first address before the General Assembly today, and it was just what we had expected. Rouhani sounded like a moderate, he vowed Iran was a peaceful country, he insisted Iran would never build nuclear weapons, he called for economic sanctions to be removed from his country, he seemed to hold out an olive branch to the United States, and he didn’t pray to Allah asking for the Twelfth Imam to come soon and set up an Islamic caliphate.
No big surprise. I had noted that the Iranian “charm offensive” was going to be kicked into high gear, and it was.
What was a surprise was that fact that in recent days the U.S. opened the door for Rouhani to meet briefly with President Obama, yet Rouhani snubbed Mr. Obama. The Iranian leader refused to attend the luncheon that the American leader was attending. This was the very place where the suggested ”encounter” between the presidents of the two countries — what would have been the first in decades — was supposed to have taken place. Yet Rouhani did decide to meet and shake hands with French President Francois Hollande.
Why did Rouhani stiff arm Obama in the midst of the “charm offensive”? Perhaps because Rouhani is not actually playing for American sympathy, but that of the rest of the world. Perhaps Rouhani is trying to isolate Obama and make his seem weak and foolish and irrelevant. After all, the Iranian leader made the American President and his political team at the White House and State Department — all tripping over themselves to embrace this new Iranian “moderate” — look ridiculous today. The Obama administration is practically begging Tehran to get cozy and cut a deal. Yet thus far, Rouhani does even want to shake Mr. Obama’s hand, or have his picture taken with the leader of the “Great Satan,” much less cut a real and trustworthy deal to get rid of Iran’s nuclear weapons program.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his team are warning the White House not to fall into Iran’s “honey trap.”
But no one in the Obama entourage seems to be listening. They seem determined to pursue Iran, even if the centrifuges in Iran keep spinning, Iran keeps gaining enriched uranium, and keeps moving towards not just one nuclear weapon but a whole arsenal. Indeed, one leading Israeli newspaper made the case that there were so many similarities between the Obama’s speech and Rouhani’s speech that there is likely much more back-channel contact between the two countries than previously reported.
More on all that in a moment.
First, let’s note that the media was full of glowing coverage of Rouhani, the man who presides over the leading state sponsor of terrorism in the entire world.
- AP called Rouhani “moderate” and “conciliatory.”
- CNN said Rouhani was “conciliatory” and “seeking cooperation” with the West.
- Time magazine said Rouhani “first cautious steps forward toward diplomatic rapprochement” with the U.S.
- The Washington Post called Rouhani a “moderate” who “presented a friendlier face.”
- The New York Times called Rouhani a “moderate cleric” who ”preached tolerance and understanding”
“In what may have been the most widely awaited speech at the United Nations, Iran’s new president, Hassan Rouhani, preached tolerance and understanding on Tuesday, decried as a form of violence the Western sanctions imposed on his country and said nuclear weapons had no place in its future,” reported the New York Times. “Mr. Rouhani, whose speech followed President Obama’s by more than six hours, also acknowledged Mr. Obama’s outreach to Iran aimed at resolving more than three decades of estrangement and recrimination, and expressed hope that ‘we can arrive at a framework to manage our differences.’”
“But the Iranian leader also asserted that the ‘shortsighted interests of warmongering pressure groups’ in the United States had resulted in an inconsistent American message on the nuclear dispute and other issues,” noted the Times. “Mr. Rouhani restated Iran’s insistence that it would never pursue nuclear weapons in its uranium enrichment program, saying, ‘this will always be the position of Iran.’ But he offered no specific proposals to reach a compromise on the nuclear dispute, which has led to Iran’s severe economic isolation because of Western sanctions that have impaired its oil, banking and manufacturing base. The sanctions, he said, are ‘violent, pure and simple.’”
“The speech by Mr. Rouhani, a moderate cleric who is close to Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, appeared partly aimed at his own domestic audience and was his most prominent opportunity to explain his views, following his election in June,” the Times stated, noting that Mr. Rouhani’s “ascent came after eight years of pugnacious saber-rattling by his hard-line predecessor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who regularly railed against the United States and Israel, questioned the Holocaust and provoked annual walkouts by diplomats at his General Assembly speeches. There was no such mass walkout this time. ’We believe there are no violent solutions to world crises,’ Mr. Rouhani said. Mr. Rouhani’s visit to the United Nations has been widely anticipated for any signs of the moderation and pragmatism that he said his administration was bringing to Iran. But his speech still provoked skepticism and criticism.”
“Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu slammed Iranian President Hasan Rouhani’s speech to the UN General Assembly Tuesday, calling it ‘cynical and full of hypocrisy,’” noted the Times of Israel. “He said he was vindicated in ordering the members of Israel’s UN delegation not to be in the hall when Rouhani spoke, since their presence ‘would have given legitimacy to a regime that does not accept that the Holocaust happened and publicly declares its desire to wipe Israel off the map.’ As Israel’s prime minister, he said, ‘I won’t allow the Israeli delegation to be part of a cynical public relations charade by a regime that denies that Holocaust and calls for our destruction.’”
“Rouhani, said Netanyahu, ‘spoke about human rights at a time when Iranian forces are participating in the slaughter of innocent civilians in Syria. He condemned terrorism at a time when the Iranian regime carries out terrorism in dozens of countries worldwide,” the Times noted. “‘He spoke of a peaceful nuclear program at a time when the IAEA has established that the [Iranian] program has military characteristics, and when it’s plain to all that one of the world’s most oil-rich nations is not investing a fortune in ballistic missiles and underground nuclear facilities in order to produce electricity.’ Netanyahu, who had earlier Tuesday urged the world not to be ‘fooled’ by Iran’s new moderate rhetoric, said that it was no coincidence that Rouhani’s speech featured ‘no realistic offer to halt Iran’s nuclear program and contained no commitment to uphold the [relevant] UN Security Council resolutions.’ This, the prime minister said, precisely reflected Iran’s plan: ‘To talk, and buy time, in order to advance Iran’s capacity to attain nuclear weapons.’ Rouhani was a past master of such tactics, said Netanyahu, recalling that the new president ‘has boasted about the way in which he misled the world a decade ago [as Iran's chief nuclear negotiator], when Iran was negotiating while simultaneously advancing its nuclear program.’ The international community, Netanyahu said, ‘must judge Iran by its actions, not its words.’”
That said, a front-page analysis by a leading Israeli newspaper suggested that Presidents Obama and Rouhani’s speeches were so choreographed as to strongly indicate significant back-channel discussions have been underway for quite some time between the U.S. and Iran.
“Take away the boasting and the bluster and what you have is this: U.S. President Barack Obama and Iranian President Hassan Rohani have presented a nearly-identical two-point plan aimed at resolving the impasse over Tehran’s nuclear program,” notes Chemi Shalev, a reporter and analyst for Haaretz, a prominent and well-respected Israeli daily newspaper. “If you are a suspicious type, there is no way that you are going to ascribe this to coincidence. It is, in effect, a declaration of principles for any future accord on Tehran’s nuclear program.”
“The trade-off, which can be dubbed a ‘peace for rights’ formula, is almost certainly the result of hitherto unknown backdoor coordination between the two countries,” asserts Shalev. “It includes US recognition of an inherent Iranian “right” to nuclear energy in exchange for Iranian willingness to ‘prove’ that its nuclear program is meant for peaceful purposes only. Obama actually said as much in his speech: ‘These statements made by our respective governments should offer the basis for a meaningful agreement.’ He then went on to keep the American side of the bargain by declaring: ‘We should be able to achieve a resolution that respects the rights of the Iranian people while giving the world confidence that the Iranian program is peaceful.’”
“Rohani was even more explicit,” Shalev notes, “speaking of ‘two inseparable parts of a political solution for the nuclear dossier of Iran.’ The transcript of his speech actually highlights the two elements of the equation and presents them in bullet form. The first part includes Rohani’s declaration of Iran’s peaceful intentions but also his offer, in the name of ‘national interests,’ to ‘remove any and all reasonable concerns about Iran’s peaceful nuclear program.’ The second objective, he said, is ‘acceptance of and respect for the implementation of the right to enrichment inside Iran and enjoyment of other related nuclear rights.’ In order to achieve these two goals, Rohani added that Iran ‘is prepared to engage immediately in time bound and result-oriented talks to build mutual confidence and removal of mutual uncertainties will full transparency.’”