Last Friday, President Obama surprised the press when he announced that he had a telephone conversation with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, the first direct conversation between the U.S. and Iranian presidents since the Islamic Revolution. Obama expressed his optimism after his conversation that a nuclear deal was possible.
Perhaps someone should tell that to Rouhani. On October 2, Rouhani spoke to the Iranian press and gave his summary of the conversation. According to a translation provided by the Open Source Center, Voice of the Islamic Republic Radio 1 reported: “Speaking to journalists after a cabinet meeting on 2 October, Rouhani assured his countrymen that there will be no talks about the issue of nuclear technology and enrichment inside Iran.”
Rouhani’s statements are not the exception, but the rule. Over at the Iran Tracker, analysts Will Fulton and Amir Touraj have catalogued a number of Iranian officials’ press statements in the past day or two walking back some of the flexibility that Rouhani implied.
Oops. Just as Palestine Liberation Organization chairman Yasser Arafat once said one thing to American officials and quite the opposite to his domestic audience, so it seems that Rouhani is now doing the same. President Clinton for too long was willing to ignore Arafat’s duplicity, ultimately leading to a foreign policy train wreck. Let us hope that Obama has learned that a real change of Iranian policy would require saying the same thing to American and Iranian journalists. The White House should accept nothing less.