Iran’s ‘charm offensive’ hits gravel at UN

At his UN debut, Rouhani called for "immediate, results oriented" talks on Tehran's nuclear program but gave few details on how far Iran would be willing to go to remove the international community's concerns.

By
September 27, 2013 11:03
2 minute read.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani at the UN General Assembly, September 24, 2013.

Rouhani at the UN 370. (photo credit: REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz)

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.”

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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 peaceful purpose.

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 exchange.

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.”

The US believes these overtures by Iran are not a matter of goodwill.

Rather, 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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