Commentary Magazine


Contentions

Rouhani Begins to Play the West

New Iranian President Hassan Rouhani didn’t help himself last week when he gave a speech denouncing the state of Israel as a “sore on the body of the Islamic world.” Iran’s Western apologists may have sought to seize on the fact that he didn’t, as the first Iranian translation released said he did, proclaim that it ought to be removed. But the difference between Rouhani’s remarks and those of his predecessor Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was so minimal as to remind even those least interested in pressuring Iran that he is part of a profoundly anti-Semitic regime. But he got back on message yesterday in his first press conference, where he began the process of entrapping the West in another protracted negotiation that will ultimately lead nowhere.

Rouhani stated his desire for a negotiated settlement of the standoff over Iran’s nuclear program and said that he was open to direct talks with the United States on the issue. Some focused on the fact that at this appearance, as well as in his inaugural address on Sunday, Rouhani repeatedly said his country would not give up its nuclear ambition and demanded that any negotiation must begin with the West retreating from, rather than intensifying, sanctions on the Islamic regime. But this was a clever move. While giving away nothing and even doubling down on his attempt to delegitimize Israel and its supporters, Rouhani probably showed just enough leg in this statement to entice the U.S. into more talks about talks. In doing so, Rouhani probably bought Iran’s nuclear engineers and scientists as much as another year of time to get closer to their goal of a weapon that would destabilize the region and threaten the existence of Israel. Though President Obama appears desperate to seize on any excuse to get out from under his promises never to allow Iran to go nuclear, this is a ruse that the United States shouldn’t fall for.

Though Rouhani is often depicted in the West as a genuine moderate who represents a change in direction from the extreme Islamists that rule Iran, his attempt at a diplomatic opening made it clear that he is as obsessed with anti-Semitic delusions about the Jews as his boss, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. As even the New York Times, whose editorial column has been transformed into a Rouhani fan page in the last two months, noted:

Numerous times during the question-and-answer session, Mr. Rouhani referred to unspecified “warmongering pressure groups” that he accused of confusing the White House at the behest of an unidentified country.

Mr. Rouhani apparently was referring to pro-Israel advocates of strong sanctions against Iran that have publicly praised Congress in recent days for advancing legislation that would greatly intensify the economic consequences on Iran unless it halts uranium enrichment. …

Mr. Rouhani never made any explicit reference to Israel at his news conference. But he said that the interests of “one foreign country” had been imposed on Congress, and that “even the interests of the U.S. are not considered in such actions.”

What Rouhani fails to understand is that opposition to Iran’s nuclear program isn’t the result of manipulation by the so-called “Israel Lobby” but a consensus position that has overwhelming support from both Democrats and Republicans. While Israel is endangered by Iranian nukes, so is the entire West, as well as moderate Arab regimes.

This reliance on the Jewish boogeyman should be a tipoff, even to an Obama administration that urgently seeks an excuse to keep negotiating with Iran after numerous rebuffs and failures, that there is no difference between Rouhani and the rest of the regime.

Rouhani knows that even Obama wouldn’t retreat on the sanctions that are crippling the Iranian economy without Tehran starting the process of dismantling its weapons project. But what he wants is to draw the Americans into another series of talks like the P5+1 multilateral negotiations that served only to buy the Iranians another year while the West achieved nothing. Having already participated in one of the earliest negotiating sessions with the West on the issue and successfully ensnaring his counterparts in a compromise agreement that was soon reneged upon, Rouhani knows the object of the game is that so long as Iran keeps talking about talking, the U.S. is hopelessly drawn into the trap.

President Obama may feel bound to test Rouhani’s sincerity, but if he is serious about keeping his word on the nuclear issue, he must set firm limits on the time he is willing to expend on such an experiment in spite of the temptation to keep the process going. As this process begins, the Obama foreign policy team should keep Rouhani’s provocations about Israel in mind. Far from being tangential to their goal of gaining an agreement, they are the tipoff that what will follow won’t be in the interests of the United States.