The past weeks have seen a remarkable change in both the tone and substance of relations between Iran and the west, particularly the U.S. It began with Pres. Hassan Rouhani’s Rosh Hashana greeting in early September to the world’s Jews. Though such a gesture might seem at best symbolic, no Iranian leader had offered such a gesture in years, if ever. That the act had more than symbolic meaning was signified by Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu’s immediate and curt rejection. He also called the Holocaust a “reprehensible crime” against the Jewish people.
Last week, cognizant of Iran’s faltering human rights record and persecution of religious and ethnic minorities, Iran’s president released 80 political prisoners. He also penned an op-ed published in the U.S.’ paper of political record, the Washington Post in which he called for an end of bellicosity and the beginning of dialogue and diplomacy in resolving outstanding differences between Iran and the west.
In planning his activities during the United Nations General Assembly week in New York, Rouhani invited progressive Iranian-Americans to meet with him. He even invited Iranian-Jews as well, and brought with him a Jewish member of the Iranian parliament. Iranian-American Jews were fond of the Shah. They were enormously wealthy in Iran and have only grown more so here. They are politically conservative, even monarchists. Their answer to the president’s invitation was a resounding “No.”
Israel’s ‘Nyet’ (With Caveat)
Israel’s response has also been resoundingly negative. From the top, the rightist government has universally panned the peace overture. Netanyahu has called Rouhani a “wolf in sheep’s clothing.” The Israeli embassy tweeted a sophomoric mock-LinkedIn profile for Rouhani in which he listed his achievements in promoting nuclear proliferation and terrorism. Someone should’ve reminded the embassy staffer who cooked this up that Israel is itself a nuclear proliferator which refuses to join the Non-Proliferation Treaty (unlike Iran).
Israel, it should be remembered, has long supported regime change against Iran. Its intelligence services, first reported by Tikun Olam in 2010 and confirmed by NBC News in 2012, have collaborated with the MeK to bomb military installations and assassinate nuclear scientists. It is a country steeped in fear and loathing of Iran.
But not all Israelis reacted with such cynicism to Rouhani’s peace offerings. Maariv, Israel’s center-right daily newspaper, ran a Hebrew translation of Rouhani’s Washington post op-ed under the headline: The Era of Blood Feuds is Past. For a country steeped in anti-Iranian sentiment, this was a major attitude readjustment.
There is a gathering consensus that now may just be the time to forge a nuclear agreement with Iran. Both leaders’ speeches at the UN, while they continued some of the hardline rhetoric of the past, seemed to point to new lines of thinking. Unlike the presidency of Mohammed Khatami, Ayatollah Khamenei seems to have embraced the Rouhani approach…for now.
There is also a parallel sense that the road to solving the Syrian crisis may run between Washington and Tehran. Rouhani, unlike any previous Iranian leader, has said that his country would support any Syrian leader elected by the people:
Radio Free Europe reported Pres. Rouhani sharply diverging from previous Iranian policy toward Assad:
“Whoever Syrian citizens vote for to rule their country, we’ll agree with it,” Rohani was quoted as saying by Iran’s IRNA news agency. Rohani was addressing commanders of the IRGC.
Rohani’s remarks marked a shift from previous statements by Iranian officials, who vowed never to allow the fall of Assad’s regime.
In today’s Washington Post interview with David Ignatius, Rouhani specifically affirms Iran’s interest in playing a constructive role in resolving the Syria crisis:
My government has full authority based on discussions with the Supreme Leader to negotiate any issue that is necessary to be negotiated to preserve Iran’s security and national-security interest. That includes any necessary cooperation at the international level to help settle the Syria crisis, ending the civil war there and to insure the right of self determination of the Syrian people. We would enter in any talks or meetings including Geneva 2 as long as there are no preconditions for Iran’s participation.
All this may mark increasing Iranian flexibility and hope for transforming Syria into a multi-ethnic state in which power is shared among religious and ethnic groups, like Lebanon.
In case there is any doubt about Rouhani’s resolve on the matter, he told Ignatius that he was fully empowered by the Iranian people and Ayatollah Khamenei to resolve any outstanding differences between Iran and the west:
…Settlement of the nuclear file is one of the responsibilities of my government. It is regarding the general strategy on the issue that the Supreme Leader also has his own views. You know that since I myself led the nuclear negotiations for several years, I’m quite fully cognizant of the general framework, in terms of strategy. So within that political framework, my government is fully empowered to finalize the nuclear talks.
‘Time (and Ayatollah) Waits for No Man’
But, as the president likes to say about Iran, there is a limited window of opportunity. Khamenei will not wait for years to see if honey draws the bee to the flower. There will come a point, if Obama doesn’t seize the moment, when the former will wash his hands of diplomacy and return to truculence as policy. You can even see an allusion to this in the sentence in which he states that “the Supreme Leader also has his own views,” meaning that they are different from Rouhani’s.
Iran’s president also alluded to the need both for resolve and speed in negotiating an end to the nuclear question:
The only way forward is for a timeline to be inserted into the negotiations that’s short–and wrap it up. That is a decision of my government, that short is necessary to settle the nuclear file. The shorter it is the more beneficial it is to everyone. If it’s 3 months that would be Iran’s choice, if it’s 6 months that’s still good. It’s a question of months not years.
Though he doesn’t say this specifically, Rouhani realizes there are hardliners on both sides who are going to dig in their heels and delay. The longer the delay the stronger opponents become. It’s why it’s critical to strike a decisive deal for peace now.
The following passage is critical to understanding the types of forces within Iran that might try to derail an agreement. It is also revelatory in the way it parallels the “securitization” of Israeli society (what I call the “national security state”):
One of the…pledges o[f] my campaign was to insist on bringing a cultural, social and political environment in Iran and diluting the security dimensions of society at the moment. Regarding the IRGC, it’s an important institution. It helped Iran emerge victorious from the Iraq-Iran war. What the Supreme Leaders said, and I have also said, is that the IRGC should understand and analyze political affairs. But it shouldn’t get itself involved in any political groupings or activities.
In other words, Rouhani bravely has taken on the IRG and told it not to stick its nose where it doesn’t belong. Can you imagine any Israeli prime minister telling the security chiefs that they have too much power? That the security dimension of Israeli society is stifling the full development of cultural, social and political life and that civilians must control the levers of the national security apparatus? What a breath of fresh air that would be! Maybe (shocking as it is) Israel can learn a few things from this man?
U.S. Anti-Iran Lobby
It’s almost never pointed out in the mainstream media that here in the U.S. we too have our own anti-Iran power bloc spoiling for a fight over Obama’s return to the negotiating table. Fueled by Aipac and the Israel lobby, along with GOP neocon hawks and Tea Party stalwarts, there is a strong anti-Iran contingent in Congress that wants nothing more than to torpedo any deal. In fact, M.J. Rosenberg believes that Aipac has the power to single-handedly undo any chance of a deal. I’m not as downbeat about prospects, but he definitely has a point. When it’s stirred, Aipac is a fearsome adversary. And if it feels its ox is being gored, it will stop at nothing to beat down this initiative.
In short, both sides, Iran and the U.S., have powerful, entrenched interests opposing a negotiated resolution.
For any agreement to be possible, Rouhani, Obama and pragmatic forces on both sides will have to rally for compromise. They will have to rise to “the better angels” of their nature.
Until now, both sides have pandered to their respective prejudices and shouted slogans. Now is when the real test begins. Can they declaw their respective hawks, get beyond rhetoric and come up with a substantive agreement–in six months?
In fact, during the Khatami/Rouhani era in 2003-2005, Khamenei was again interested in a diplomatic solution. In May 2003 the Khatami/Rouhani/Zarif (current FM and then UN ambassador) proposed a “grand bargain” to the US, putting every issue on the table, from Hezbollah, Hasmas and recognition of Israel, to nuke, but Bush rejected it. Khatami and Rouhani suspended Iran’s nuclear program from October 2003-August 2005, but the European Union reneged on its promises in return for the suspension.
Your ‘Grand Bargain’ was a bag of wind concocted by a disgruntled Swiss diplomat desperate not to be sent back home.
Oh, yeah, so says Middle East Forum, the pro-Israel, anti-Iran “forum,” better known as a propaganda machine.
Here is Michael Rubin’s partial CV.
What are your qualifications, Muhammad?
Anyone that considers Michael Rubin, the same man who advocated invasion of Iraq and after invasion was a consultant on Iraq, the same MR that resides in the American Enterprise Institute, the pro-Israel bastion of war, destruction and neoconsims, the same MR that has advised members of MEK, a terrorist cult on how to write, as credible, must first establish that he is not insane!!
Richard Silverstein says
Lawdy, comparing Michael Rubin to Muhammad: well, let’s see. Michael Rubin is a pro Israel neocon who never met an anti-Arab/Muslim war he didn’t like. Never fought for anyone, never dodged a bullet.
Muhammad is Iranian, a professor of engineering, respected journalist who contributes to various respected publications like The National Interest, Antiwar.com, Christian Science Monitor. He and his family have suffered considerably before they arrived here.
Please don’t make a total jackass of yourself, J.J. We’re way ahead of you.
And garbage that was given life and took the form of a man. It’s telling that you seem to think he’s legitimate and worth lauding.
Richard Silverstein says
@ J.J.: Holy smokes, J.J. is using Daniel Pipes as a “credible source!!” What a laugher! You expect us to digest the bullshit Pipes pulls from various nether regions of his Islamophobic imagination??
Read my comment rules. They require using credible sources. Pipes or anything to do with him is NOT one.
Garbage link, and a garbage site in general.
Bob Mann says
Why is AIPAC so fiercely anti-Iran? What is the motivation in being so resistant to any peaceful overtures from Rouhani?
Why is the super reactionary, elite branch of the Revolutionary Guard, the Quds Force, named for the Persian word for Jerusalem, and why have its fighters promised to liberate Jerusalem?
It seems like you are today’s duty Hasbara troll. Please try harder. You are embarrassing yourself.
Just how have I embarrassed myself?
Kevin Herbert says
Sadly JJ I get the impression that you may never know the answer to your question
@Kevin: is that the best you can do? You are a condescending pseudo-elitist. Get picked on much as a child?
Richard Silverstein says
@ Marcos: Since you’ve never commented here, I suggest you read the comment rules, which ask that comments deal with the substance of the blog post.
Richard Silverstein says
Take a look at what you’re wearing…nothing. You’re the emperor with no clothes.
Go over what you wrote. Carefully.
Richard Silverstein says
His flight landed from Ben Gurion a few days ago. After a little hasbara R&R here, he’ll be taking off for parts unknown undoubtedly.
Richard Silverstein says
@ J.J.: That’s another fiction from your brave, courageous Dexter Filkins. He claims without offering any support that members of Quds Force promise to liberate Jerusalem. Can you find any credible source that supports this claim? If not, you’re just as guilty of slinging the hash/hasbara as Filkins.
“the road to Jerusalem passes through Karbala” (a holy Shi’ite town in Iraq)–Ayatollah Khomeini
Richard Silverstein says
It spoils their anti-Muslim narrative. If a Muslim country in conflict with Israel actually seeks to resolve differences it would mean Israel might be expected to do the same with other enemies like the Palestinians. Anything but that!!
I have been and am always optimistic, looking for opportunities where diplomacy could lead to a breakthrough towards peace in the Greater Middle-East.
Secretary Kerry had to win the battle inside the Oval Office from “humanitarian hawks” Susan Rice and Samantha Power. His leading “off-the-cuff” remark caused the space for Lavrov and Putin to make a CW proposal on Syria.
President Obama made a decision to go through Congress and delayed the military strike, which would have caused deep trauma to the Middle-East and played into the hands of the right-wing conservatives in Congress, Turkey, GCC States and Israel. Any act of war outside International Law would have destructed Obama’s second term, sharpened conflict with our “enemy” states Syria, Iraq, Russia, Lebanon (Hezbollah) and Iran. My take a fortnight ago …
If John Kerry and Sergey Lavrov illustrate their determination …
STEP 1 – Resolve CW issue on Syria
STEP 2 – Arms embargo and a political solution for Syria
STEP 3 – Resolve nuclear issue of Iran with president Rouhani
STEP 4 – Finalize a peace treaty between Israel and Palestine
Peace Will Be the Nail In Netanyahu’s Coffin Feb. 20, 2013
RE: “Israel’s response has also been resoundingly negative. From the top, the rightist government has universally panned the peace overture. Netanyahu has called Rouhani a “wolf in sheep’s clothing.” The Israeli embassy tweeted a sophomoric mock-LinkedIn profile for Rouhani in which he listed his achievements in promoting nuclear proliferation and terrorism. Someone should’ve reminded the embassy staffer who cooked this up that Israel is itself a nuclear proliferator which refuses to join the Non-Proliferation Treaty (unlike Iran). ~ R.S.
MY COMMENT: As to Netanyahu calling Rouhani a “wolf in sheep’s clothing”, this appears to be yet another instance of ‘psychological projection’ on the part of the Israelis*!
* FOR SOME BACKGROUND ON ISRAEL’S MENDACITY REGARDING ITS NUCLEAR PROGRAM, SEE:
“How Israel Out-Foxed US Presidents”, By Morgan Strong (A Special Report), ConsortiumNews.com, 5/31/10
ENTIRE REPORT – http://www.consortiumnews.com/2010/053110.html
Hope Dignity Peace says
Great write up, Richard. It’s a horrifying thought to think that when there is a chance for peace that powerful interests still oppose it. To be honest, it really raised the question of whether there can be any hope for humanity.
Fred Plester says
The stumbling block comes further down the line:
How does the US, or anybody else, know that a deal made and signed by the Iranian president will not be torn up or simply ignored by the Supreme Leader, who has his own armed forces, commanded and funded in total isolation from Iran’s government?
It’s not the weapons which have to go: it’s the situation where every single thing the Iranian government does, can be second guessed by a parallel power structure that’s accountable to no-one.
Iran is an intractable problem because the post revolutionary power structure was designed by the first Supreme Leader to be intractable. Even if the current Supreme Leader wants to overcome this, it won’t be easy because Khomeni knew that almost any possible successor might chose a softer line or an easier path than he would, and there is in consequence a well-constructed briar patch at every turn.
Fred Plester says
Israel’s eternal coalition politics does not make it very much easier for Israel to ratify a deal than it would be for Iran.
Nick Clegg’s recent speech to his party conference was instructive, in that he gloried in the way that his minority party had been able to block anything it wanted to and that it had every prospect of retaining that power regardless of how the British public voted in the next General Election. That’s been the reality in Israel for decades. Instead of a Supreme Leader, you have a Supreme Irritant. Or, in Israel, three or four of ’em.
Iran needs a government that is actually sovereign and not subject to the whims of a theocracy, and Israel needs a majority government. When those are in place, there will be peace agreements because they will be possible. At the moment, everyone knows they need them, but they also know that they won’t be able to do them.
A first in 34 years …
John Limbert, a former US embassy hostage in Tehran, support US-Iran engagement
Luca K says
Reading posts here about Iran, one gets the idea that Iran is at least as much responsible for the ‘crisis’ as are the US and its allies and puppets. This is patently FALSE. First of all, Iran is NOT trying to develop nuclear weapons. This is the assessment of the American Intel Community as even the NYT admitted: ““Recent assessments by American spy agencies are broadly consistent with a 2007 intelligence finding that concluded that Iran had abandoned its nuclear weapons program years earlier,” and “The officials said that assessment was largely reaffirmed in a 2010 National Intelligence Estimate, and that it remains the consensus view of America’s 16 intelligence agencies”. On the other hand, any informed person knows Israel has Nuclear, Biological and CW.
Iran has not attacked a country in more than 200 years! But it was invaded by the Brits and Soviets during WWII, then had its Democracy destroyed by a US/Brit regime change coup in 53, fully documented, and a US puppet dictator installed. Right after the revolution, Iraq attacked the troubled country and received US support. Since then Iran has been suffering
increasingly draconican sanctions, totally ILLEGAL, which amount to an act of war against the Persian Nation. The Zionists are and have been for a long time the main force pushing for a war on Iran, just as they pushed for war against Iraq and Syria.
It’s no surprise the Iranian leadership is suspicious and it BETTER BE. As for Rouhani, as a well informed person said: “Contrary to various propaganda claims the Iranian president said nothing essential that differed much from what his predecessor said. But he said it in a different tone and with a much better orchestration and that made all the difference.”
As for Syria, the country IS a multi-ethnic/sectarian society and until this imposed and engineered war against it, it was also quite stable. To wish that it becomes something like Lebanon, an unstable country filled with traitors who cooperate with Israel, US and Saudi interests, is to wish a weak State, one that cannot stand up to Israel, one that would be compromised as a partner in the axis of resistence. That is why Mr.Silverstein WISHES such an outcome for Syria.
Richard Silverstein says
@ Luca K: I’m sure Hezbollah would be happy to have you label its members “traitors.” I’m also touched by how zealous you are in determining for Lebanese who are and are not “traitors.” Why don’t you stick to doing that for the country of which you are a citizen & stop sticking your nose into the internal affairs & definitions for other states?
You think Assad has “stood up” to Israel?? Don’t make me laugh! He’s a paper tiger. Syria hasn’t stood up to Israel since 1973, & that wasn’t even Bashar’s doing!