NEW YORK – Iranian President Hassan Rouhani made his debut in New York this week
with a combative speech, asserting that Western governments misunderstand the
intentions of the Islamic Republic.
“Nuclear weapons and other weapons of
mass destruction have no place in Iran’s security and defense doctrine, and
contradict our fundamental religious and ethical convictions,” Rouhani declared.
“Our national interests make it imperative that we remove any and all reasonable
concerns about Iran’s peaceful nuclear program.”
Calling for “immediate,
timebound and results-oriented” talks with the goal of an agreement within six
months, Rouhani proposed few details on just how far his government would
actually be willing to go – now that its nuclear program has been spread across
over a dozen sites, includes thousands of advanced centrifuges and has
stockpiled tons of uranium enriched well beyond a level necessary for any
The US government put that political will to a key test
on Monday, offering an encounter between President Barack Obama and Rouhani,
which the government in Tehran declined.
The US leaked the offer anyway,
in a clever move of public diplomacy intended to publicize America’s willingness
to negotiate and gauge reaction in Iranian media to the private
One senior official said that the United States considered the
UN General Assembly an opportunity to test whether Iran’s “charm offensive” was
backed by any heft.
After the encounter offer, another top official
called the direct exchange, with no intermediary, “an important test” that the
US hadn’t “any high degree of certainty would take place.”
believes these overtures by Iran are not a matter of goodwill.
they believe a meaningful diplomatic effort is an imperative of Rouhani’s
administration after his election, resulting in nothing less than sanctions
relief. “Timebound” talks are in the interest of Iran as well as the West –
officials believe – because of a new round of sanctions that may further cripple
Iran’s economy as the year comes to an end.
There were two Rouhanis at
the General Assembly: the conciliatory and the proud. Both had to be seen in
Iran, given its electorate. But the two will have to compromise with each other
before any agreement can be negotiated in earnest with the outside world.
Rouhani’s debut this week showed that this has not yet occurred. Try as some
might, Iran may not be ready for peace just yet.
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