Following America’s abdication of power in confronting Bashar Assad and his use of chemical weapons, the West’s appeasement of third-world dictators continues. At the UN, many of the world’s politician’s and the international press are falling over themselves to praise and ingratiate themselves with Iran’s ostensibly moderate and sweet-talking new president Rouhani and have given him a royal welcome.
The UN’s atomic agency, the IAEA, and Iran held “constructive talks” about Iran’s nuclear weapons program, generating suspicion in certain countries in the West, including Israel:
At issue are suspicions outlined in reports from the UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency that Iran worked secretly on trying to develop nuclear weapons — something Tehran denies. As part of its probe, the agency is trying to gain access to a sector at Parchin, a sprawling military establishment southeast of Tehran.
Iran says it isn’t interested in atomic arms, but the agency suspects the site may have been used to test conventional explosive triggers meant to set off a nuclear blast. Under former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Iran blamed the IAEA for the standoff, saying it is caused by the agency’s refusal to agree on strict parameters that would govern its probe under a so-called “structured approach.”
The agency in turn said such an agreement would tie its hands by putting limits on what it could look for and whom it could question. It bases its suspicions of nuclear-weapons research and development by Iran on its own research and intelligence from the US, Israel and other Iran critics.
The meeting was closely watched by the US and its allies as a test of whether Rouhani, Ahmadinejad’s successor, was ready to deliver on promises that he sought to end Iran’s nuclear standoff with the international community.
Its positive outcome was the latest in a series of encouraging developments along that line.
In contrast to Ahmadinejad, Rouhani has come across as a more moderate face of the hard-line clerical regime in Tehran and his pronouncements at this week’s UN General Assembly have raised guarded hopes that progress might be possible. But they have also served as a reminder that the path to that progress won’t be quick or easy.
He has steadfastly maintained that any nuclear agreement must recognize Iran’s right under international treaties to continue enriching uranium. Iran now is enriching below the level used as the core of nuclear missiles, but its critics fear it is at the threshold where it would be able to quickly revamp its program to produce weapons-grade uranium.
In comments to reporters at the United Nations on Friday, Rouhani said that President Barack Obama struck a new tone in his UN speech this week that left him optimistic about easing tensions between the two countries.
The deadlock over Parchin and related issues remained despite 10 rounds previous to Friday’s meeting. IAEA chief Yukiya Amano told reporters earlier this year he was concerned about satellite images showing asphalt work, soil removal, and “possible dismantling of infrastructures” at the site.
Iran says such activities are part of regular construction that has nothing to do with alleged attempts to cleanse the area of evidence. But Amano said that because of such activities, “it may no longer be possible to find anything even if we have access to the site.”
Rouhani’s ostensible amenability to the West’s demands caused all the usual suspects to jump to premature optimism:
In another sign of building momentum, both sides agreed to fast-track negotiations and hold a substantive round of talks on Oct. 15-16 in Geneva. Iran, hoping to get relief from punishing international sanctions as fast as possible, said it hoped a resolution could be reached within a year.
“We agreed to jump-start the process so that we could move forward with a view to agreeing first on the parameters of the end game … and move toward finalizing it hopefully within a year’s time,” Zarif said after the talks. “I thought I was too ambitious, bordering on naiveté. But I saw that some of my colleagues were even more ambitious and wanted to do it faster.”
European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton also said the parties had agreed to “go forward with an ambitious timeframe.”
Kerry said he was struck by the “very different tone” from Iran. But along with his European colleagues, he stressed that a single meeting was not enough to assuage international concerns that Iran is seeking to develop nuclear weapons under cover of a civilian atomic energy program.
“Needless to say, one meeting and a change in tone, that was welcome, does not answer those questions,” Kerry told reporters. “All of us were pleased that the foreign minister came today and that he did put some possibilities on the table.”
British Foreign Secretary William Hague said there had been a “big improvement in the tone and spirit” from Iran compared with the previous government under Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said the meeting had taken place in a “completely different tone, atmosphere and spirit” than what the group was used to and that a “window of opportunity has opened” for a peaceful resolution of the situation. He too insisted that Iran’s words would have to be matched by actions.
“Words are not enough,” he said. “Actions and tangible results are what counts. The devil is in the detail, so it is now important that we have substantial and serious negotiations very soon.”
Besides these welcome words of caution, beneath Rouhani’s benign words lay an open threat against Israel with his demand that Israel join the nuclear non-proliferation treat (the NPT) and come clean about its own nuclear capability, effectively disarming its deterrence against genocidal regimes like Iran itself. His words echo with breathtaking hypocrisy:
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani on Thursday denounced the proliferation, use and stockpiling of nuclear weapons in his first extensive speech on the issue since assuming office.
Calling for a “nuclear-free zone” in the Middle East, Rouhani told the UN High level Meeting on Nuclear Disarmament that Israel was the only country in the region that had not signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, and requested that it do so “without delay.”
“Almost four decades of international efforts to establish nuclear weapons-free zones have regrettably failed,” he said. “Urgent, practical steps toward the establishment of such a zone are necessary. The international community has to redouble efforts in support of the establishment of this zone.”
While the Prime Minister’s Office had no direct response on Thursday night to Rouhani’s call for a nuclear free zone in the region, this is an idea that is constantly aired in international forums dealing with proliferation issues.
Ten days ago Shaul Chorev, the head of the Israel Atomic Energy Commission, addressed the matter in Geneva at the International Atomic Energy Agency’s general conference meeting in Geneva.
Summing up the government’s position on the idea, Chorev said, “Israel believes that the gloomy regional realities, together with the notorious reputation of some of the regimes in the Middle East, mandate a prudent and gradual security and arms control process.
More so when it comes to an initiative to establish the region as a WMD-free zone, an idea that has never been attempted elsewhere, even in the most peaceful regions of the world.”
A WMD-free zone was a goal attainable at the end of a process that brings about a change in attitudes toward Israel, not at the beginning of that process, Chorev said. “Lasting peaceful relations, reconciliation, good neighborliness, open borders and trust among the regional parties” would be “key milestones in the route to a joint regional endeavor to create a mutually verifiable zone, free of weapons of mass destruction and their means of delivery.”
Progress toward that goal “cannot be made without a fundamental change in regional conditions, not the least, without a significant transformation in the attitude of states in the region toward Israel,” he said.
Rouhani said that all nuclear programs must be peaceful in nature and that any military element to such a program in Iran would contradict its religious convictions.
But he reaffirmed his government’s position that nuclear energy was Iran’s inalienable right, as were the qualities of life being deprived of ordinary Iranians by “unjust” Western sanctions that are “intrinsically inhumane.”
“Sanctions, beyond any and all rhetoric, create belligerence, warmongering and human suffering,” he said.
Rouhani called for “immediate, time-bound, results-oriented” negotiations in “full transparency,” as the US and Israel continue to point to the clock on Iran’s uranium program and voice skepticism of its recent “charm offensive,” as one senior State Department official referred to Iran’s Monday overtures.
In his address to the UN, Rouhani sailed away on flights of fancy that would have us chuckling in the aisles if it weren’t so serious:
He called Iran an anchor of peace in the ocean of instability that is the Middle East.
“The age of zero-sum games is over,” he said, echoing US President Barack Obama‘s speech earlier in the day. Rouhani said Iran wanted peace with the West and the rest of the world and called the fear of Iran an “imaginary threat.”
“Faith-phobic, Islamophobic, Shia-phobic and Iran-phobic discourses” have reached “dangerous proportions,” Rouhani told the UN General Assembly, labeling such speech as “xenophobia.”
“My country has been a harbinger of just peace and comprehensive security,” he said.
Netanyahu’s reaction was correct if predictable:
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu issued a statement following Rouhani’s speech on Tuesday, saying that, “as expected,” it was “a cynical speech that was full of hypocrisy.”
“Rouhani spoke of human rights, even as Iranian forces are participating in the large-scale slaughter of innocent civilians in Syria,” he said.
“He condemned terrorism, even as the Iranian regime is using terrorism in dozens of countries around the world. He spoke of a nuclear program for civilian purposes, even as an IAEA report determines that the program has military dimensions, and when any rational person understands that Iran – one of the most oil-rich nations – is not investing capital in ballistic missiles and underground nuclear facilities in order to produce electricity.”
Netanyahu, slated to address the UN General Assembly on Monday and to focus on the Iranian nuclear issue, said Rouhani’s speech lacked any “practical proposal” to stop Iran’s military nuclear program and “any commitment to fulfill UN Security Council decisions.” Tehran’s strategy was to “talk and play for time” to advance its nuclear program, a strategy Rouhani deployed a decade ago when he was Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator, he said.
As for Rouhani’s views on Israel, the Jews and the Holocaust, I addressed Rouhani’s immoderation in a post at the time of his election, and since then, nothing that he has done or said has changed this position.
CNN published a translation of their interview with Rouhani in which they claimed:
Rohani told Christiane Amanpour “I am not a historian, and that when it comes to speaking of the dimensions of the Holocaust it is the historians that should reflect on it. But in general I can tell you that any crime that happens in history against humanity, including the crime the Nazis committed towards the Jews, as well as non-Jewish people, was reprehensible and condemnable as far as we are concerned.”
It was reported that Iranian President Hassan Rouhani had delivered what his predecessor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, never could — recognition that the Holocaust took place — but according to the semi-official Iranian Fars News Agency significant parts of the report are inaccurate.
On CNN.com’s home page Wednesday morning, the main headline asserted that Rouhani, in an interview with network reporter Christiane Amanpour, said that the Holocaust happened: “Iran’s New President: Yes, the Holocaust Happened.”
Fars however, categorically denied the claim that Rouhani addressed the Holocaust by name, saying the network “fabricated” the story, adding the word ‘Holocaust,’ among other conciliatory phrases, to its translation.
Fars said: “The CNN aired its interview with Rouhani on Tuesday but the news channel added to or changed parts of his remarks when Christiane Amanpour asked him about the Holocaust.”
According to Fars, the exact translation of Rouhani’s comments is as follows:
Rouhani’s: “I have said before that I am not a historian and historians should specify, state and explain the aspects of historical events, but generally we fully condemn any kind of crime committed against humanity throughout the history, including the crime committed by the Nazis both against the Jews and non-Jews, the same way that if today any crime is committed against any nation or any religion or any people or any belief, we condemn that crime and genocide. Therefore, what the Nazis did is condemned, but the aspects that you talk about, clarification of these aspects is a duty of the historians and researchers, I am not a history scholar.”
Whether CNN is correct or the Fars Agency, Rouhani’s words were not welcome in his own backyard:
Analysts and advisers close to Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei criticized Iranian President Hasan Rouhani’s recent gestures to the West and his conciliatory statements, expressing concern that it may have gotten out of hand.
This despite the fact that Rouhani had denounced Israel for “making the Palestinians pay for the Nazi crimes against the Jews”.
Even under the guise of seemingly conciliatory statements, however, Rouhani again threw a barb at Israel. “If the Nazis created crimes, others should not be asked to pay for these crimes.”
Rouhani’s claim fit into a history of assertions that the Palestinians are suffering the results of Europe’s crime. In 2008, for instance, Archbishop Desmond Tutu said, “I think the West, quite rightly, is feeling contrite, penitent for its awful connivance with the Holocaust. Now when you are contrite, when you are penitent, you are then ready to make amends, and we call that penance,” the former anti-apartheid activist told reporters as he probed an IDF shelling of a Gaza residence. “The West is penitent; the penance is being paid by the Palestinians.”
Earlier this week, the Iranian president complained that Israel used the Holocaust as an excuse for persecution of the Palestinians. During a Wednesday interview with CBS’s Charlie Rose, Rouhani complained that “given that we live in the Middle East, we feel the impact of what took place in World War II today in our region.
How moderate of him.
The final show of appeasement was delivered by US President Obama himself when he made a 15-minute phone call to Hassan Rouhani:
The United States and Iran took a dramatic step toward ending more than three decades of estrangement on Friday when President Barack Obama phoned Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and they agreed to work toward resolving the deep dispute over global suspicions that Tehran is trying to build a nuclear weapon.
The last direct conversation between the leaders of the two countries was in 1979 before the Iranian Revolution toppled the pro-U.S. shah and brought Islamic militants to power. Obama said the long break “underscores the deep mistrust between our countries, but it also indicates the prospect of moving beyond that difficult history.”
The phone call capped a week of seismic alterations in the relationship, revolving around Rouhani’s participation in the annual U.N. meeting of world leaders. The night before the two leaders spoke, U.S. and European diplomats had hailed a “very significant shift” in Iran’s attitude and tone in Thursday’s first talks on the nuclear standoff since April.
As for Obama’s “deepest respects to the Iranian people”, those respectful Iranians greeted Rouhani on his return with throwing shoes, eggs and rocks at him because he was too conciliatory to the West.
Interestingly, even the liberal New York Times has noticed that Israel and other Middle Eastern countries are viewing this new rapprochement with suspicion:
For Israel and Persian Gulf states like Saudi Arabia, President Obama’s telephone call with President Hassan Rouhani of Iran on Friday was the geopolitical equivalent of discovering your best friend flirting with your main rival.
Though few nations have a greater interest in Mr. Obama’s promise to stop Iran from developing a nuclear bomb, his overtures to Mr. Rouhani were greeted with alarm here and in other Middle East capitals allied with the United States. They worry about Iran’s sincerity, and fear that Mr. Obama’s desire for a diplomatic deal will only buy Iran time to continue a march toward building a nuclear weapon.
But beyond that, the prospect of even a nonnuclear Iran — strengthened economically by the lifting of sanctions, and emboldened politically by renewed relations with Washington — is seen as a dire threat that could upend the dynamics in this volatile region.
“There is a lot of suspicion and even paranoia about some secret deal between Iran and America,” said Jamal Khashoggi, a prominent Saudi journalist who is close to the royal family. “My concern is that the Americans will accept Iran as it is — so that the Iranians can continue their old policies of expansionism and aggression.”
Saudi Arabia and the other Sunni-dominated gulf countries share a concern about a shift in the balance of power toward Iran’s Shiite-led government and its allies. For Israel, Iran remains the sponsor of global terrorism and of the Lebanese militia Hezbollah and the Palestinian militant group Hamas, both avowed enemies of Israel’s existence.
“They can change the regime, but one thing won’t change and that is the hostility against Israel,” warned Uzi Rabi, chairman of a Middle East studies center at Tel Aviv University. “Part of the plan is to drive a wedge between Americans and Europeans and Israel. I hate to say it, but what the Iranians managed to do is to change the whole game.”
“The most critical problem with Iran is its aim of achieving nuclear weapons, but the problem with Iran is wider,” added Mr. Steinitz, who led Israel’s delegation in a boycott of Mr. Rouhani’s speech last week at the United Nations. “Iran is not a peace-seeking country or regime — on the contrary. Iran is maybe the most aggressive country in the world, and it’s not just against Israel.”
Saudi Arabia and other gulf states view Iran as a regional nemesis whose nuclear program is only one element of a broader effort to project power. The rivalry is made more bitter by the sectarian dimension and competition over supplying oil to the world. The Saudi leadership has long been uneasy with Mr. Obama’s handling of the Arab uprisings that began in 2011, which it sees as a threat to the regional order. The president’s overtures to Iran add to a growing impatience and exasperation among Arabs in the gulf over Washington’s retreat from threats to strike Syria, whose civil war is viewed as a proxy for the larger sectarian and strategic battle unfolding across the region.
Mustafa Alani, a Dubai-based security analyst, said the Saudis think Mr. Obama is “not a reliable ally, that he’s bending to the Syrians and Iranians.” Mishaal al-Gergawi, a political analyst based in the United Arab Emirates, said, “There is a lot of cynicism, and it feeds into the notion that Obama is very naïve — he was naïve with the Muslim Brotherhood, naïve with Bashar al-Assad, and he is now naïve with Iran.”
Israeli analysts, too, worry over what they see as the Obama administration’s weak and wavering policies toward the Middle East. After the Syria chemical weapons crisis, some said the phone call only upped the ante for a diplomatic victory that could lead Washington to accept what Jerusalem would consider a “bad deal” with Iran, which insists its nuclear program is for civilian purposes only.
“Obama is interested in showing foreign policy success because he hasn’t had too many of them,” said Emily Landau, an Iran expert at the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv. “I’m afraid that for the sake of that he might be willing to compromise on the nuclear issue in a manner that I think is detrimental to U.S. national security interests, leave aside Israel.”
In case anyone doesn’t understand the dangers emanating from Iran, Dore Gold in Israel Hayom picks holes in Rouhani’s charm offensive:
Roughly ten years ago, the U.S. State Department published a power point presentation illustrating the inherent weakness of the arguments the Iranians used to defend their nuclear program. It noted that despite Iran’s enormous oil and gas reserves, Iranian officials claimed that Iran could no longer rely on fossil fuels in the future. Ali Akbar Salehi, who today heads Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization, but in 2003 served as its representative to the International Atomic Energy Organization, added that Iran had to replace the consumption of oil with the use of uranium ore as the primary source for Iran’s energy.
But the State Department study showed that while Iran still had ample oil and gas, which could supply Iran for at least 200 years (in the case of gas), Tehran actually had very limited supplies of uranium ore, especially if it had plans of eventually building seven nuclear reactors for the production of electricity. In fact, if Iran’s domestic supply of uranium ore was inadequate for a nationwide program of electricity production, it was more than sufficient for the production of a respectable number of atomic weapons every year. For the U.S., this was a red flag indicating that the argument that Iran only wanted a civilian program was completely disingenuous and what it really sought was a full scale nuclear weapons program.
Then there was the question of why Iran insisted that it must enrich its own uranium by itself. Tehran actually had only one working reactor for producing electricity at Bushehr, which used uranium fuel that was supplied by Russia. Moscow assured Tehran that the Russian supply of enriched uranium for Bushehr would not be disrupted. So why spend billions on enrichment plants at Natanz and Fordo?
Read the whole article to gain an understanding of how close Iran actually is to achieving nuclear weaponization.
As for Obama’s appeasement, a Jerusalem Post editorial decries his misguided linkage between the Israel-Palestinian dispute and Iran’s nuclear weapons program:
In his speech this week before the UN General Assembly, US President Barack Obama gave special attention to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
According to Obama this conflict – along with Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons – is central to peace and stability in the region. Several times during his speech he repeated this mantra.
Obama is wrong, however, about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The Arab Spring that began in Tunisia, spread to Egypt and sparked sectarian violence in Syria had absolutely nothing to do with Israel’s “occupation” of the West Bank. In each of these countries, and elsewhere, popular uprisings unfolded on the backdrop of socioeconomic inequalities and a rejection of old and corrupt autocratic regimes.
If Israel and the Palestinians settled all their disputes today, the civil war tearing Syria apart would continue to rage, the violent standoff between the Muslim Brotherhood and Egypt’s military junta, and other conflicts and terrorist activity from Iraq and Afghanistan and Pakistan to Mali and Kenya, to name just a few, would continue.
Even if Israel managed, somehow, to reach a peace agreement with the PLO, led by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, over the West Bank, Jerusalem and refugees, Israel’s conflict with the Hamas controlled Gaza Strip, with Hezbollah forces in south Lebanon and with additional Islamist groups in Jordan, Egypt, Syria and elsewhere would continue.
That is because it is Islamist extremism is its various forms – not the Israeli-Palestinian conflict or even just Iran – that is the driving force behind the terrorism, violence and bloodshed throughout the region. And the Israeli-Palestinian conflict itself has been perpetuated by this same Islamist extremism more than any other factor.
When various commentators asserted that Barack Obama would be the worst American president ever, especially as far as Israel’s interests are concerned, they were right on the nail.
Will Israel, and the rest of the civilized world, and the Western-aligned Gulf States be able to withstand another 3 years of Obama’s appeasement, whether misguided or deliberate? We have no choice but it won’t be easy.