Since 64-year-old Hassan Rouhani took the reigns from former Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmandinejad Aug. 3, there’s been some fresh air to turn a page in U.S.-Iranian relations. While Iran claims free-and-fair elections, getting the blessing from Iran’s 74-year-old Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khemenei signaled a new beginning attempting to undo the damage caused by eight-years of Ahmandinejad. Since taking office in 2005, Ahamdinejad antagonized world powers—especially Israel—with his incendiary comments about “wiping Israel of the map,” prompting antagonistic relations with the U.S. and Israel. Turning to Rouhani, Khamenei opens the door to progress on the nuclear front that turned Iran into a pariah state, imposing draconic U.N. economic sanctions. Putting Iran’s former chief nuclear negotiator Rouhani in the driver’s seat marks real progress.
Speaking in New York Sept. 24 at the U.N., Rouhani called for all nuclear powers to declare their weapons and begin to disarm. “Any use of nuclear weapons is a violation of the U.N. Charter and a crime against humanity,” said Rouhani at U.N. headquarters. While meaningless by itself, Rouhani’s message signals Iran’s increased willingness to submit to U.N inspections, something that could allay growing concerns that Iran was pursuing a nuclear weapon. As head of the Non-Aligned Movement, Rouhani called for “de-targeting, de-alerting or reducing the number of nuclear weapons [is] not [a] substitute for their total elimination,” diverting attention from Iran’s problem with the U.N. Security Council of enriching uranium without submitting to the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency inspections. While in office, Ahmadinejad boasted that Iran was a “nuclear power.”
While it’s commendable that Rouhani seeks nuclear disarmament, he needs to fully declare Iran’s nuclear program by allowing the IAEA to inspect all of Iran nuclear enrichment facilities. Calling on Israel of join the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, Rouhani won’t score points with the Security Council to begin ending Iran’s punitive economic sanctions. Since Ayatollah Khomenei’s Islamic Revolution drove out Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi Jan. 16, 1979, the U.S. broke of diplomatic relations Nov. 4, 1979 after militants stormed the U.S. Embassy in Tehran. While some low-level diplomatic contacts were made since 1979, tomorrow’s meeting with 69-year-old Secretary of State John Kerry and Iran’s 53-year-old U.S.-educated Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif are the most formal face-to-face meetings since the Shah was evicted from Tehran.
What makes things different today is that Rouhani’s handpicked Foreign Minister Zarif has close ties to the U.S., with his two children born in Denver. Meeting with foreign ministers from Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany, the so-called P5+1, there’s good reason to believe Iran is finally ready to deal on its nuclear program. What the P5+1 want is for Iran to submit to IAEA inspections to allay remaining concerns that Iran seeks a nuclear weapon. Once it’s confirmed that Iran seeks only non-military uses of atomic power, there will be growing consensus on the Security Council to end sanctions leaving Iran in its current economic mess. Unlike Ahmadinejad who antagonized the Security Council, Rouhani looks to set a new tone restoring better diplomatic relations with the U.N. It wouldn’t take long for Iran to come clean and end all U.N. sanctions.
While the U.S. has been disappointed before with Iran, the conditions haven’t been better for a potential breakthrough. “I’ll let you know after they’ve been serious,” said Kerry downplaying expectations going into tomorrow’s meeting. “We’re going to have a good meeting, I’m sure,” said Kerry, showing some cautious optimism. With Zarif leading Iran’s team, it’s going to be like night-and-day when Ali Akbar Salehi replaced Manouchehr Mottaki Dec. 13, 2010 as Ahamadinejad’s foreign minister. What makes the new talks different is that Ayatollah Khamenei sees the value of ending the crippling sanctions that puts Iran back into a revolutionary spirit. Getting back into the good graces of the Security Council serves the ruling mullahs by advancing Iran’s struggling economy. Eight years of Ahmadinejad left Iran isolated and crippled under punitive U.N. sanctions.
Tomorrow’s first face-to-face meeting with Iran promises to eventually open the door to diplomatic relations. While there’s a ways to go yet, putting Iran’s fate in Zarif’s hands gives the diplomatic process the best chance of succeeding. Rouhani’s high-minded speech about ending nuclear weapons puts Iran squarely on the non-proliferation side of the nuclear fence. “The world has waited too long to disarm,” said Rouhani. “As long as nuclear weapons exist, the threat of their use exists,” clearly stating Iran’s rejection of any military nuclear ambitions. Regardless of international skepticism, Rouhani’s statements send the right message going into a new round of nuclear talks. Unlike under Ahmadinejad, Khamenei finally sees Iran’s nuclear program as counterproductive to Iran’s economy. Undoing years of Ahamadinejad’s damage is a step in the right direction.
About the Author
John M. Curtis writes politically neutral commentary analyzing spin in national and global news. He’s editor of OnlineColumnist.com and author of Dodging The Bullet and Operation Charisma.