Washington and the West remain infatuated with new Iranian President Hassan Rouhani. The supposed moderate is set to make his debut on the international stage later this month at the opening of the General Assembly of the United Nations in New York where the comparison to his predecessor Mahmoud Ahmadinejad will work to his advantage. All the hopes of those who wish to avoid a confrontation with the Islamist regime rest on the notion that Rouhani’s election in a faux democratic presidential vote represents a chance for real change in Iran. Though Iranians might hope genuine change might bring a less repressive theocracy—a proposition that it is difficult to imagine would hold much allure for a fundamentalist follower of the late Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini such as Rouhani—for the West it means an Iran that will abandon its nuclear ambitions and cease sponsoring terrorism or intervening in the affairs of other nations in the region. And it is to those hopes that Rouhani is doing his best to pander.
On the nuclear front, there are reports claiming that Rouhani is prepared to allow Western inspectors into Iran’s key Fordow nuclear plant and even remove the centrifuges that are refining more uranium that adds to the ayatollah’s stockpile. Such concessions in exchange for a lifting of Western sanctions are said to reflect Rouhani’s desire for rapprochement in order to save his country’s economy. As for Syria, as the New York Times reports today, Rouhani told Revolutionary Guard commanders yesterday that Iran will support whomever Syria wants as their leader even if it is not Bashar Assad. But as even that article is forced to acknowledge, Rouhani’s statement is directly contradicted by the facts on the ground in Syria as Iranian forces have become a key element of the Assad regime’s murderous and successful war against rebels. As Michael Rubin noted earlier today, the surfacing of a video showing Iranians taking part in the fighting gives the lie to Rouhani’s statement.
The Times attempted to argue that the contradiction between Rouhani’s moderation and the policies of the regime he represents is a question of dueling interests or alternative tracks that show cracks in the regime’s solid front. But a more sensible reading of these contrasts shows that Rouhani’s feelers to the West are merely talk intended to fool the gullible, as it has successfully done repeatedly in the last decade.
After Ahmadinejad’s unrepentant anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial, Rouhani’s apparent desire to make nice is a welcome change for those who view confrontation with Iran as a greater evil than the threat from their nuclear program and sponsorship of terrorism. But talk is cheap.
The Iranian intervention in Syria implicated them in the atrocities committed by the government they are propping up. Any investigation into war crimes committed in the Syrian civil war, as more than 100,000 were slaughtered in the last two years, will inevitably involve Tehran’s Revolutionary Guard and their Hezbollah auxiliaries. For Rouhani to speak of Iran accepting the verdict of the Syrian people after they have assisted the dictator’s murderous repression is more than hypocritical. It is merely a rhetorical gloss on a criminal policy.
The same kind of skeptical analysis should be applied to the reports of Rouhani’s promises to shut down the centrifuges that are currently spinning Iran toward a nuclear weapon.
The West has, after all, already gone down the garden path with Rouhani on this front when he served as Iran’s nuclear negotiator only to realize later that his moderate promises and willingness to make deals were merely a ruse intended to buy the regime more time. Any nuclear arrangement that leaves in place Iran’s ability to refine uranium—the current position of the administration’s Russian partner on the issue—as well as their efforts to create a plutonium track to a weapon does nothing to avert the threat. While shutting down Fordow would be a productive step, after nuclear inspectors have been kept out of Iran for so long the possibility for deception is great. So is the likelihood that the entire discussion is merely one more attempt to string out negotiations until it is too late to stop Iran.
In his less guarded moments, Rouhani continues to remind us that he is an ardent supporter of the Islamist regime that is really run by Supreme Leader Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Any faith placed in his moderation speaks more to Western hopes than Iranian reality. While we should expect that Rouhani’s New York appearance will continue to boost his stock among those already inclined to appease Tehran, there is very little reason to believe his dual track is anything other than a deception.