Détente in New York?
President Obama delivered a speech at the United Nations today where he emphasized diplomacy as a means of stabilizing the Middle East. While most attention has been focused on Syria, the speech could have broader implications for American-Iranian relations.
President Obama announced that he had permitted Secretary of State John Kerry to pursue nuclear arms negotiations with Iran, but warned that “conciliatory words will have to be matched by actions that are transparent and verifiable.”
Iran’s new leader, President Hassan Rouhani, was elected in June having campaigned on passing a civil rights charter, revitalizing the sanctions-crippled economy, and pursuing détente with the international community. Although Rouhani has persisted in following Tehran’s standard line of opposing foreign intervention in Syria, Rouhani has been widely marked a moderate. Many analysts believe that Rouhani may be both willing and politically powerful enough to reach a deal whereby Iran dismantles its nuclear program in return for the alleviation of the sanctions that have wreaked havoc on Iran’s economy.
Rouhani, who also spoke in New York to the United Nation’s General Assembly, told the world that his country was “no threat to the world” while Western sanctions on her economy were “violent – pure and simple.” Rouhani continued the brash rhetoric of his predecessor Mahmoud Ahmadinejad when he assailed America’s drone program, the plight of the Palestinian people, and implicitly condemned the Syrian rebels as terrorists.
Nevertheless, the Iranian President declared that he was ready for negotiations, saying that the current system of Western sanctions was disproportionately victimizing Iran’s poorest citizens.
Both Obama and Rouhani will face political criticism for beginning negotiations. Influential pro-Israel lobbies in America warn the White House that Iran’s charm offensive is part of a ruse designed to buy the regime time to complete and safeguard its nuclear regime from an aerial assault, while Iran’s conservative political elite prevented – according to senior White House officials –Rouhani from even shaking Obama’s hand while the two leaders were in New York.