The new Iranian president, Hassan Rouhani, wanted to bolster his public relations campaign by holding out the possibility of a peace treaty—only dreaming of such a treaty makes one comfortable. In the article he published in the Washington Post, Rouhani appeared as if he was advising the West not to lose the chance to deal with him, the president whom Iranians have elected and given a mandate. It escaped Rouhani that the Iranian people do not choose whom they elect: The committee set up by the supreme leader, Ali Khamenei, chooses the candidates after it sifts through and eliminates any unfavorable to its position, letting the Revolutionary Guards and the Basij militias select the person they want for the next president. As for the Iranians, they elected Rouhani only after the moderate candidates were prevented from standing for election.
Rouhani said that there is an opportunity for peace and the world must seize it. This has been said before by Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who had said that Iran’s nuclear program is peaceful and he does not intend to build a nuclear bomb. Before them, President Mohammad Khatami said the same. Khatami was more faithful, but he was put on a shelf during his two presidential terms, and was thus unable to undertake any reforms. Even Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani practiced his verbal magic on the West.
Rouhani is adept at negotiating, as well as knowing and exploiting the West’s weaknesses. The world did not conceal the fact that it is tired of wars and wants to secure the future, thus embarrassing elected presidents the world over. World public opinion may believe Rouhani’s statements and articles; however, if we follow what is being said inside Iran, we will notice a real difference.
About a week ago, the Revolutionary Guards defied Rouhani, warning Iran’s diplomats against dealing with the Americans. Even before the West had a chance to be clear about Rouhani’s intentions, the newspapers of the Revolutionary Guards were saying the IRGC would reject any peace treaty that might threaten its main objective—namely, the production of a nuclear bomb. The “Down with America, Down with Israel” slogan is one of the pillars of the Iranian regime. And if this slogan disappears from the scene through the openness with the West Rouhani mentioned, the regime will undoubtedly be shaken.
On the eve of his departure to New York to attend the new session of the UN General Assembly, Rouhani drew his own red lines regarding any settlement reached over Iran’s nuclear program. He stated that Iran has signed and continues to abide by all weapons of mass destruction non-proliferation treaties. Rouhani also told the West and the US that Iran has the right to enrich uranium—without specifying the percentage to which they can enrich it—and that this must be part of any nuclear agreement, stressing that his country will not produce nuclear weapons.
Later on, Rouhani attended a military parade for the first time as president. The parade displayed some 30 ballistic missiles. Gen. Yahya Rahim Safavi announced, “Iran has become a regional superpower.” Basking in the light of the country’s military power, Rouhani announced that Tehran is ready to cooperate with the West if it recognizes the Iranians’ rights.
It is well known that Rouhani is not the one who makes decisions in Iran. It is also known that Khamenei, who has the last word in the country, supported him by saying that he agrees with Rouhani’s “heroic flexibility” regarding his decision to start negotiations with the West.
The concept of heroic flexibility here means changing tactics, not strategies, and this has been confirmed by the chairman of the Iranian Parliament, Ali Larijani. However, the reality is that Rouhani wants to continue his campaign of positive change in the West because he wants to avoid the total collapse of the Iranian economy and the political instability that may result.
Rouhani concentrated on the nuclear issue and made it clear that it is closely linked to the economic situation. He also expressed his view clearly on the nuclear issue, saying it was necessary to keep the centrifuges working, yet not at the expense of peoples’ living conditions. For this reason, Rouhani has expressed his determination to make progress in settling the nuclear dispute, calling to achieve this as soon as possible and adopt an approach different from the one his predecessor used for years.
Within this context, Rouhani and Obama exchanged letters and Iranian and Western diplomats met in the General Assembly. This is what the Revolutionary Guards warned against. One thing that has been noteworthy is the comment made by the Ali Akbar Salehi the head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran. Salehi said, “Iran has a full-fledged desire to end the nuclear dispute.” It is not clear what Salehi means by the word “desire.” The main question remains unanswered.
Der Spiegel, the German magazine, quoted Rouhani as saying that Iran was ready to shut down one nuclear facility, said to be Fordo. According to the magazine, Rouhani will be committed to tangible steps—which he is willing to take at this stage, rather than at the end of the negotiations that might not end—in order to ease Iran’s economic ordeal.
That Iran would allow international inspectors to remove all the centrifuges from the underground Frodo facility near the city of Qom seems unlikely, particularly since Rouhani said that the centrifuges must continue working. On the other hand, we should not overlook the sticking points regarding Iran’s nuclear program, not the least of which is the IR-40 Arak reactor.
To make sure that Rouhani is serious and does not aim to produce nuclear weapons, there are three steps Iran should take. First, they should allow inspectors to visit the Parshin reactor. Second, they should approve the additional protocol of the Non-Proliferation Treaty. Third, they should answer the questions of the P5+1 that remain unanswered.
Rouhani believes he can obtain a mandate from Khamenei to push forward with a plan to reduce the pressure of the sanctions and to prevent the economic crisis from spiraling out of control.
In the end, all Iranian officials, including Rouhani and Salehi, have confirmed that Iran the right to enrich uranium for peaceful purposes. There is a growing concern over Iran trying to drag out the process while sending messages that appear to be attractive but which have no substance in practice.
In the middle of all of this, Iran’s nuclear capabilities continue to increase, as does the threat it poses to the region and the world. It is noteworthy that US President Barack Obama is the one who mostly believes Iran’s promises. He is keen to praise Iran for its role in finding a solution to the Syrian chemical weapons, as though the war in Syria is all about chemical weapons and neither Iran nor its fighters are to blame. Obama avoided mentioning any Arab country, as if the Arab world no longer existed.
As for his relationship with the Revolutionary Guards, Rouhani sent a message to the national society of the commanders of the Revolutionary Guards by saying that they have to stay out of politics.
There is no doubt that over the past years, the IRGC has played a highly significant role in shaping the regime’s policies at all levels, be they military, political, economic or social. Rouhani does not want the guards to turn against him; even more, he is aware of the sensitive power hierarchies within the Iranian regime. Therefore, even if he has the desire to act differently, there are no guarantees that he could. The guards have shown their true might to Rouhani, and he knows who is, in fact, ruling the country. This begs the question: What makes one stronger, being supported by the Ayatollah or by the Revolutionary Guards?