Iran’s charm offensive

There is wisdom in the old English saying: “Fine words butter no parsnips” – anyone can say anything; it’s what they do that matters.

Iranian President Rouhani in New York 370 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Iranian President Rouhani in New York 370
(photo credit: REUTERS)
How they must be rubbing their hands and congratulating themselves, Iran’s Supreme Leader and his puppet president. Using intransigence and defiance as the means of buying time to complete Iran’s nuclear ambitions had brought crippling sanctions down on the nation. So prior to the recent presidential election the Supreme Leader and his chosen candidate, Sayyed Hassan Rouhani, agreed on a long shot – a change of tactics, with no assurance of success. In order to buy the time we need, let’s try something completely different. Let’s try talking soft and sweet. Let’s offer to negotiate. In those effete Western democracies – and in none more so than the United States – there is a substantial body of opinion eager to grasp at straws rather than act decisively in support of its principles. So let’s provide some straws for them to grasp.
In the event, the  literally incredible U-turn executed by Iran on the world’s stage has worked better than either Ayatollah Khamenei or President Rouhani could have hoped for. Anxious to avoid confrontation at almost any cost, US President Barack Obama seems to have taken Iran’s charm offensive at its face value. Ignoring Iran’s continued sponsorship of international terrorism, its support -- both direct and via its satellite Hezbollah -- for the murderous régime of Bashar Assad in Syria, and its continued defiance of the UN in its dash to enrich uranium to nuclear weapon capability, Obama recently broke a thirty year embargo on US leaders having any dealings with the rogue state, and spent fifteen minutes chatting on the phone to Rouhani.
Over in the UK, Britain’s foreign secretary, William Hague, was also busy on the telephone. Having met with Iran’s new foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, at the United Nations, Hague picked up the phone on October 7 and had an interesting conversation with him. He reported the outcome to Parliament the next day:
“I’ve made very clear to Mr Zarif that we are open to more direct contact and further improvements in our bilateral relations,” he said, and proceeded to announce: “Both our countries will now appoint a non-resident chargé d’affaires tasked with implementing the building of relations, including interim steps on the way towards the eventual reopening of both our embassies.”
Nor are these two episodes the only evidence of Iran’s highly successful  foray into the world of realpolitik – the art of saying or doing anything at all, as long as it advances your national interest. Since this political approach involves jettisoning ethical or moral considerations, it has not met with the approval of those guardians of the Islamic revolution, Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, who have openly rebuked their “moderate” president for having spoken to President Obama – the leader of the Great Satan – at all, even by telephone. What their view is of exchanging chargés d’affaires with the UK we have yet to learn.
To be fair to Hague, he did hedge his announcement with qualifications.
“Iran remains in defiance of six UN Security Council resolutions ... and it is installing more centrifuges in its nuclear facilities. In the absence of substantial change to these policies, we will continue to maintain strong sanctions. A substantial change in British or Western policies requires a substantive change in that program.”
What Hague failed to include in his parliamentary address was the well-nigh incredible fact that Iran has just been appointed special rapporteur of the United Nations General Assembly’s Committee on Disarmament and International Security. In that capacity, Iran will be reporting on the global disarmament of weapons of mass destruction.
Writing about the appointment to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, Israel's ambassador to the UN, Ron Prosor, was understandably incredulous:
"It is inconceivable that a state under Security Council sanctions for suspected WMD proliferation activities would be allowed to hold this position.”
He put the bizarre, topsy-turvey situation in a nutshell:
“Permitting Iran to serve on the UN’s leading disarmament committee is like appointing a drug lord CEO of a pharmaceutical company. How is it possible to entrust the reporting on disarmament to a country that itself is likely to be the subject of the report?"
Prosor added that Iran’s appointment "erodes the UN’s legitimacy and its ability to promote arms control and disarmament, as well as preserve global peace and security. Rather than provide a global stage for Iran’s defiance and deception, the UN should shine a spotlight on the regime’s ongoing pursuit of nuclear weapons and its support for terrorism across the globe."What we are witnessing from so many sources is mass wish-fulfilment. Some people will always ignore inconvenient facts if they conflict with what they want to believe. Accumulated evidence over years of Iran’s involvement in global terrorism, its ambitions to achieve  hegemony in Islam, its continued defiance of International Atomic Energy Agency demands that it fully disclose its nuclear activities as it races towards nuclear weapon capability – all can apparently be set aside, in some minds, by a few honeyed phrases.
There is wisdom in the old English saying: “Fine words butter no parsnips” – anyone can say anything; it’s what they do that matters. So as Iran prepares for new negotiations next week with the UN Security Council on its disputed nuclear program, an informed speculation by the Wall Street Journal on October 8 is perhaps relevant. It reported, one assumes from informed sources, that Iran will offer to limit its operational centrifuges, cease 20 per cent uranium enrichment and agree to greater international supervision of its nuclear program, in return for a lifting of sanctions on its financial system and oil market. 
A gesture along these lines would indeed confound Iran’s critics. And it would enormously strengthen those who want to believe that Iran has literally undergone a conversion on the road to Damascus.
The writer is the author of One Year in the History of Israel and Palestine (2011) and writes the blog “A Mid-East Journal” (