It’s quite amazing how many pundits and journalists treat Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s promise that Iran does not seek nuclear weapons with anything besides great skepticism.
First of all, Iranian leaders have a history of making sweeping promises to Western audiences and then violating the same promises. Several years ago, I chronicled a number of these promises, here. My favorite? Promising to lift the fatwa ordering British author Salman Rushdie’s murder. On May 18, 1999, the Iranian government finally promised to lift the fatwa in return for the British reopening their embassy in Tehran. The British obliged. The next day, the Iranian government re-imposed its bounty on Rushdie. Indeed, killing Rushdie remains one of the missions listed on this recent Iranian application to be a suicide bomber.
Now, some analysts point to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei’s alleged fatwa banning nuclear weapons. Alas, while Khamenei lists his fatwas on his website, the so-called nuclear fatwa is not among them. Why bother putting something in writing if diplomats are willing to embrace what they have neither seen nor read?
Diplomats often put process against substance. Giddiness at the possibility of sitting down with adversaries too often trumps the results of such meetings. Until Supreme Leader Khamenei publicly and unequivocally announces the suspension of Iran’s illicit uranium enrichment, forfeiture of its more highly-enriched stockpiles, and an opening of all facilities, both declared and undeclared to inspectors, then Rowhani’s outreach must be interpreted as more a tactic for delay than sincere.