If Iran agrees to cap its uranium enrichment activities, there is reason to be skeptical it will honor such an agreement. Its president, Hassan Rouhani, promised temporary freezes in the program before only to buy time.
In Geneva, Switzerland last week, the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council plus Germany reportedly proposed that Iran suspend its nuclear program in exchange for economic sanctions relief. A similar proposal was made in February.
A deal didn’t materialize. Diplomats who were involved in the process anonymously accused the French of scuttling the accord by demanding tougher concessions from the Iranians at the last minute.
The recent rhetorical goodwill between Iran and the United States seems to have dampened the animosity and mistrust that existed between the two nations for 34 years. But unless the diplomatic opening achieves clear results, hardliners may yet close the door on talks.
A relatively conciliatory speech from Iran’s new president, Hassan Rouhani, before the United Nations set the stage for a preliminary discussion between Secretary of State John Kerry and his Iranian counterpart, Mohammad Javad Zarif, on the sidelines of the annual General Assembly meeting last week. Rouhani’s first trip to New York as Iran’s leader ended in a dramatic fashion — with a brief but historic phone call with President Barack Obama on his way to the airport.
After their respective speeches to the United Nations General Assembly in New York, Presidents Barack Obama of the United States and Hassan Rouhani of Iran returned to their own corners without the historic handshake that observers were hoping for. Given the constant speculation in the media of an informal meeting between the two leaders, the news that a handshake would not occur came as a disappointment. Some saw Rouhani’s refusal to meet Obama as a snub. Others labeled it a missed opportunity.
It appears that Obama and Rouhani had something else in mind. Just as an American-Iranian détente threatened to unravel, Obama stepped behind the White House podium and stated, to everyone’s surprise, that he had spoken directly with Iran’s new president on the phone. “Going forward,” Obama said, “President Rouhani and I have directed our teams to continue working expeditiously to pursue an agreement” on Iran’s nuclear enrichment program.
While thousands of international diplomats are attending this week’s festivities at the annual United Nations General Assembly, American officials are squaring most of their attention on Iran’s new president, Hassan Rouhani.
Since his surprising victory in Iran’s presidential election this summer, the former nuclear negotiator and cleric has generated his fair share of excitement in world capitals, talking of moderation, coming together in pursuit of shared goals and expressing a willingness to become more transparent about his country’s nuclear enrichment efforts.
Compared to his predecessor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Rouhani comes across as a wise sage who understands the nuances and sensitivities of international politics. The president himself criticized Ahmadinejad’s administration for speaking in bold, black and white terms and conducting a foreign policy that, he said, resulted in nothing but global sanctions preventing Iran from exporting its oil.
After being endorsed by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei a day earlier, Hassan Rouhani was formally inaugurated by Iran’s Majlis on Sunday as the country’s new president. With Khamenei watching on stage, the reigns of the presidency were officially handed over by Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in a symbolic gesture.
Even before surprising international observers with a resounding win over his reactionary opponents in the June presidential election, Rouhani was a recognizable and highly respected individual in the Islamic republic’s political system. A man with considerable religious credentials, Rouhani managed his country’s National Security Council for sixteen years during the presidencies of Hashemi Rafsanjani and Mohammad Khatami. His stewardship of the council occurred at a time when Tehran was slowly trying to improve its public image after a long and bloody war with Iraq and later during a period when American soldiers were miles from Iran’s eastern and western borders. Read more “Iranians, West Hope New President Will Break with Past”
The resounding win by Hassan Rouhani, the only relative moderate in this year’s Iranian presidential race, was as dramatic to world powers as it was encouraging to millions of Iranians who waited for the results last Saturday.
Rouhani, who is a cleric by training and was his country’s chief nuclear negotiator between 2003 and 2005, was not expected to win the election. Nor was he seen as a great challenger to Iran’s conservatives, an establishment that forms the nucleus of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s support base.
Despite the doubts and his status as a wildcard during the campaign, Rouhani’s victory made clear that many Iranians had become disillusioned with the conservatism of his predecessor Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, one that has had detrimental effects on the Iranian economy and its foreign relations.