Did he or didn’t he?
The big international issue is whether Iran’s new president tweeted a new year’s blessing to Jews.
News reports show a tweet from Hassan Rouhani with the following text: “As the sun is about to set here in #Tehran I wish all Jews, especially Iranian Jews, a blessed Rosh Hashanah.” The picture accompanying the tweet purports to show an Iranian Jew praying in a Tehran synagogue.
Rosh Hashanah, which began Wednesday at sundown, is the Jewish new year; it marks the beginning of the Days of Awe which culminate ten days later with Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement.
A tweet blessing Jews at their holiest time of the year is a significant change from the anti-Semitism of Rouhani’s predecessor, a notorious holocaust denier. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad also called repeatedly for the annihilation of Israel.
The tweet has not been verified by Iran, and one of Rouhani’s advisers claimed it is false. A close aide told CNN”s Christiane Amanpour that the president does not tweet; however, the aide claimed, people in his office use the account that is in his name, which makes it semiofficial.
Regardless, the semiofficial tweet which Rouhani or his aides may or may not have sent over the internet appears part of the charm offensive of the new president. Rouhani is perceived in the West as more moderate than Ahmadinejad, and he entered office promising that Iran would show transparency in talks aimed at ending Iran’s quest to develop nuclear weapons.
Rouhani may be a moderate but the president is not Iran’s ultimate authority. That honor falls to the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has quashed previous intimations of moderation in Tehran.
Beyond the symbolism of his Rosh Hashanah tweet, Rouhani has also taken the more substantive step of announcing that the Iranian foreign ministry will have the lead in nuclear negations with the West, a move that gives the president more direct influence over the talks. The Supreme National Security Council, a body directly answerable to Khamenei, previously directed nuclear negotiations.
All welcome news, but no reason for the West to lessen pressure on Tehran to end its program to build nuclear weapons.
The Iranian nuclear program is part of the debate over how to react to Syria’s use of chemical weapons. To be sure, the odiousness of chemical warfare is reason enough to retaliate against the regime of Bashar al-Assad for gassing its own citizens. The world cannot sit idly by and allow Assad, or any other tinhorn dictator, to violate established international norms and common morality.
But failure to act against Syria’s blatant use of chemical weapons would send the wrong message to the mullahs in Tehran. President Obama has made it clear that Iran must not be allowed to acquire nuclear weapons. Those warnings, however, would lose credibility if American threats against Syria turn out to be hollow.
Hassan Rouhani may prove to be a moderate, and he may be able to steer Iran back into the international community. But until the evidence is in, the United States and its allies must do everything to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons.
Acting against Syrian uses of a weapon of mass destruction is part of that pressure.