Rohani puts 'moderate' foot forward, yet shows no sign of halting nuclear program

Iranian pres.-elect largely spares Israel, jabs it only once: Netanyahu says Rohani "does not call the shots" on nuclear policy.

Hassan Rohani 370 (photo credit: REUTERS/Raheb Homavandi RH/CJF/AA)
Hassan Rohani 370
(photo credit: REUTERS/Raheb Homavandi RH/CJF/AA)
Iranian President-elect Hassan Rohani took only one stab at Israel during an hour-long press conference Monday, where he held out the prospect of better ties with the West but gave no indication he would stop Iran’s relentless nuclear march.
Rohani, now widely touted in the Western media as a “moderate cleric,” said the sanctions against his country were “brutal” and that the Iranian people did “nothing wrong to deserve them.”
Saying that the West understood that the sanctions hurt them as well, Rohani said Israel was the only party benefiting from these steps. But in a break from outgoing President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Rohani uttered the world “Israel” and did not refer to it as the “Zionist entity.”
Asked by a French reporter point-blank whether he was going to stop uranium enrichment, a critical Israeli demand, Rohani said “that time has passed.”
The Iranian leader, who asserted that he hoped to build the trust of the international community, said “we have many ways for building confidence other than suspending enrichment.”
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, in a short interview with Reuters at about the same time as the press conference, said Israel’s red line on Iran has not changed with Rohani’s election.
“Neither has the Iranian pursuit of approaching it gradually with running out the clock, buying time, putting up a hospitable face. These are all tactics. Again and again and again,” he said.
Israeli officials have said that red line, the one that Netanyahu drew on a cartoon picture of a bomb at the UN last September, is 250 kilos of uranium enriched to 20 percent.
Netanyahu repeated his position that Iran’s election exposed popular discontent with the Tehran government but was unlikely to bring about any change in the country’s nuclear policy.
Acknowledging that economic sanctions were clearly taking their toll on Iran, Netanyahu said the pressure needed to be maintained and urged Western allies not to pin their hopes on Rohani.
“He doesn’t count. He doesn’t call the shots,” Netanyahu said, adding that Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, made all the decisions regarding nuclear policy.
“The Iranian election clearly reflects deep disaffection of the Iranian people with its regime, but unfortunately it doesn’t have the power to change Iran’s nuclear ambitions.”
According to Netanyahu, the world’s sanctions were responsible for the Iranian election results.
“These sanctions actually produced the change we have seen today,” he said.
“They did not work counterproductively.
They produced some change in Iran, but they have not yet produced the change that we need to see,” he added. “So stay firm with the demands and firm with the sanctions.”
Rohani, at his press conference, said his new government, to be formed after his inauguration in August, would “revive ethics and constructive interaction with the world through moderation.”
He defined moderation as “collective reasoning,” “avoiding extremes,” and “cost-benefit analysis.”
“I hope that all countries use this opportunity,” he said.
Asked if he would be prepared to hold direct talks with the United States, Rohani replied: “The issue of relations between Iran and America is a complicated and difficult issue.”
“It is an old wound that needs to be... healed,” he said, setting three conditions for direct talks.
“First of all, the Americans have to say... that they will never interfere in Iran’s internal affairs. Second, they have to recognize all of the Iranian nation’s due rights including nuclear rights. And third, they have to put aside oppressive... policies towards Iran,” he said.
He added there needed to be an end to American “bullying.”
The White House said on Sunday the election of Rohani was a “potentially hopeful sign” if he lived up to what it said were his promises to “come clean” over the nuclear program.
Iran’s nuclear negotiator from 2003 to 2005, Rohani pledged greater Iranian transparency on its nuclear program but did not say whether this would include International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) supervision of the military installation at Parchin, something the UN nuclear watchdog agency has long requested.
“Our nuclear programs are completely transparent. But we are ready to show greater transparency and make clear for the whole world that the steps of the Islamic Republic of Iran are completely within international frameworks,” he said.
Asked about Syria, Rohani said to applause that the civil war would be resolved “with the vote of the people of Syria.”
Although Iran is deeply involved in the conflict there, Rohani said the “interference of foreigners must end.”
He also sent a conciliatory message to the Sunni world, especially the Persian Gulf countries, saying he wanted friendly relations with Iran’s 15 neighboring countries, and called arch foe Saudi Arabia Iran’s “neighbor and brothers.”
The press conference, which was streamed live over the Internet, ended when one man shouted a slogan in favor of reformist Mirhossein Mousavi, held under house arrest since 2011.
Mousavi ran for president in 2009 and led the “Green Movement” of mass demonstrations contesting his defeat, which became the biggest challenge to Iran’s ruling system since its founding in the 1979 revolution.
“Rohani remember, Mirhossein must be [present],” the man shouted live on state television.
Rohani left the dais, and state television cut to scenes of people voting and music. •