Hassan Rohani and the Nuclear Question

June 24, 2013 9:42 am 0 comments

Iran's President-elect Hassan Rohani. Photo: Wikipedia.

Hassan Rohani, the winner of the recent presidential election in Iran, is no novice, having served as a national security adviser for 16 years between 1989 and 2005, under Presidents Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani and Mohammad Khatami. It was in this capacity that he became Tehran’s chief nuclear negotiator during the talks between Iran and the EU-3 (Britain, France and Germany) between October 2003 and August 2005. His negotiating record during those years provides a glimpse into how he is likely to treat the nuclear file now that he is president.

True, the ultimate control over nuclear matters in Iran is in the hands of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who is also the commander-in-chief of the Iranian armed forces. In the West there has been a tendency to forget this, and hence overstate Rohani’s possible influence over developments in the nuclear arena. In a June 14 interview with the BBC, British former Foreign Secretary Jack Straw described Rohani as “someone we can do business with.”

Similarly, the Western press has been stressing that he is a “moderate.” Daily Telegraph foreign affairs correspondent Damien McElroy called Rohani someone whom “policy makers trust,” even though he added a caveat that they are not certain what his exact powers will be. In fact, the powers of the president on the nuclear file have varied since Rafsanjani’s term in the 1990s.

In fact, Rohani is planning to have some influence in foreign and defense policy, even if he won’t have the last word. In a June 15 interview with him in the Saudi daily al-Sharq al-Awsat, he provided a glimpse into how he saw the division of powers between the supreme leader and the president:

“Decisions on major foreign policy issues constitutionally require the support of the supreme leader. I am privileged to have a long experience of working closely with the supreme leader, having served as Iran’s national security adviser during the Khatami and Rafsanjani administrations. Even during the last eight years, I remained one of his two representatives in the Supreme National Security Council. If elected, I expect to receive the same support and trust from the supreme leader on initiatives and measures I adopt to advance our foreign policy agenda.”

Given that he plans to be active in foreign affairs, what shape will the policies he is likely to recommend to Khamenei have? It is often forgotten that Rohani was national security adviser under President Khatami when Iran concealed its vast nuclear program from the West. It was in 2003 that the Shahab-3 missile, which Iran hopes to arm with a nuclear warhead, became operational in the Iranian armed forces. In other words, Rohani was part of a regime that hid its most sensitive nuclear facilities, which have served as the foundation of its drive for nuclear weapons.

Once the Iranian opposition revealed at the end of 2002 the two main elements of Iran’s clandestine nuclear facilities — a uranium enrichment facility in Natanz, and the heavy water production plant at Arak for the production of plutonium — Iran was forced to agree to negotiations over its nuclear facilities with the West. It was at this point in 2003 that Rohani was appointed chief nuclear negotiator.

In 2004, Rohani actually spoke about his diplomatic strategy as a nuclear negotiator. He explained that he was trying to keep the Iranian nuclear file out of the hands of the United Nations Security Council, which only adopted resolutions against Iran after Rohani left office in 2005. He was trying to justify the concessions he made to the West at the time, especially his decision to recommend the suspension of uranium enrichment. This secret speech was made public in 2006. It was in that speech that he made his famous statement that “while we were talking to the Europeans in Tehran, we were installing equipment in parts of the facility in Isfahan.”

The negotiations with the West, Rohani explained, allowed Iran to create a “calm environment,” and as a result “we were able to complete the work in Isfahan.” These statements were an admission of deception on the part of Rohani, what his mentor, Aytatollah Khomeini, called “taqiyeh” and called on his followers to adopt. It was the uranium conversion plant in Isfahan that produced the uranium gas which is supposed to be fed into Iran’s centrifuges at the Natanz facility for enrichment.

Rohani also insisted that he only agreed to suspend those activities in uranium enrichment in which Iran did not have any technical problems, so that it could still work on solving them during the suspension, without violating his agreement with the EU-3. He sought to limit the scope of what was to be suspended: The suspension of enrichment to which he agreed in October 2003 only involved the insertion of uranium gas into centrifuges and not the manufacture of the centrifuges themselves.

By agreeing to a temporary suspension and then haggling later over what the suspension meant, Rohani diffused all the international pressure on Iran that had built up from the disclosures about its secret nuclear program in 2002. He also allowed Iran to gain time in order to make further advances in its nuclear program. Looking at what he achieved, Rohani negotiated circles around his British, French and German counterparts, even though today some of them still think they scored an enormous diplomatic victory for the West.

In his speech, Rohani knew how to make hard-line remarks about the significance of this step: “A country that can enrich uranium to about 3.5 percent will have the capability to enrich it to about 90 percent.” What he was essentially saying was that his diplomacy laid the groundwork for Iran acquiring weapons-grade uranium should it make that decision in the future.

These remarks contradict what he wrote in a 2006 letter, published this week in TIME Magazine, in which he said: “A nuclear weaponized Iran destabilizes the region.” Rohani simply knew how to speak out of both sides of his mouth. Judging by Rohani’s negotiating skills and achievements, he was less a dove and more a fox.

Why was it important for Rohani to get this speech out after he was no longer the head Iranian nuclear negotiator? After the election of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in 2005, Rohani was replaced. His opponents accused him of sacrificing Iranian national interests and portraying Iran as weak by agreeing even to a temporary suspension of uranium enrichment. He was seen as being too soft in his dealings with the West.

These accusations against him after he left office will make it difficult for him to offer new concessions to the U.S. beyond those his predecessors were willing to propose. Indeed, in his first press conference after the election, in response to a France-24 correspondent asking if he was going to suspend the enrichment of uranium as he did previously, Rohani left no doubt that he would not adopt that policy again: “That era is over now.”

Yet Rohani’s election has caused a great deal of optimism about Iran’s future relations with the West. There are powerful economic forces in Europe that want to resume trade with Iran and hope that sanctions will be removed in the aftermath of his election. What is true is that the impressive support he received and the poor performance of the more hard-line candidates indicate that there is a strong desire among the Iranian people for change.

The U.S. and its allies should understand that they will have enormous leverage with Iranian negotiators and can make much tougher demands than in the past about halting the Iranian drive to develop nuclear weapons. It would be tragic if they felt that with Rohani’s election they had to reach an agreement with Iran at all costs, and let Iran keep its nuclear infrastructure intact.

This article was originally published by Israel Hayom.

Leave a Reply

Please note: comments may be published in the Algemeiner print edition.


Current day month ye@r *

More...

  • Jewish Identity Sports LeBron James’ New Coach Shaped by Summer on Kibbutz and Jewish ‘Life Lessons’

    LeBron James’ New Coach Shaped by Summer on Kibbutz and Jewish ‘Life Lessons’

    JNS.org – Influenced by his Jewish upbringing and a summer on a kibbutz, basketball coach David Blatt is embarking on his highest-profile challenge yet: coaching LeBron James, the four-time National Basketball Association (NBA) Most Valuable Player who has made waves for returning to his hometown Cleveland Cavaliers. After guiding Israel’s storied Maccabi Tel Aviv basketball franchise to its 51st Israeli league championship and 6th Euroleague title this past season, Blatt landed the Cavaliers head-coaching job in June. Just weeks later, [...]

    Read more →
  • Food Jewish Identity Young Syrian Jewish Restauranteur Continues a Family Legacy

    Young Syrian Jewish Restauranteur Continues a Family Legacy

    JNS.org – At the turn of the century, a young Jewish immigrant arrived in New York. So begins the history of many American Jewish families. It is 27-year-old Albert Allaham’s story, too, with a few unusual twists. Albert’s “century” is the 21st—he arrived almost 100 years after the massive waves of European Jewish immigration. Rather than coming from a small town along the Danube river, his shtetl was Damascus. His first American business was not a pushcart on the Lower East [...]

    Read more →
  • Book Reviews Jewish Identity A Holistic Look at the Rebbe’s Life and Career (REVIEW)

    A Holistic Look at the Rebbe’s Life and Career (REVIEW)

    Did you know that in the entire Bible, only one birthday is mentioned and it is that of Pharaoh? And did you know that according to some scientists, by accepting Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity, it is impossible to prove or disprove that the sun is the gravitational center of our solar system? In his new book, REBBE, best-selling author Joseph Telushkin reveals many surprising and sometimes shocking details as he chronicles the life and teachings of the charismatic Rabbi [...]

    Read more →
  • Food Mitzvos New Jerusalem Eatery’s Uniform Pricing Seeks to ‘Help People Make It’

    New Jerusalem Eatery’s Uniform Pricing Seeks to ‘Help People Make It’

    JNS.org – Omelet sandwich: 5 shekels. Iced coffee: 5 shekels. Tuna sandwich: 5 shekels. Fresh-squeezed orange juice: 5 shekels. Cheese bureka: 5 shekels. There’s plenty more on the Cofizz menu, but you get the idea. Dani Mizrahi and Amir Amshalm, two Israeli men in their early 30s, asked themselves: Why not launch a take-out food joint in busy neighborhoods around Jerusalem where everything—and that means everything—goes for five shekels, or about $1.50. They’d seen the concept take off in Tel Aviv, where [...]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Israel New Primetime Drama ‘Tyrant’ Filmed Entirely in Israel (VIDEO)

    New Primetime Drama ‘Tyrant’ Filmed Entirely in Israel (VIDEO)

    The new FX Network drama Tyrant was shot entirely in Israel, just 10 miles north of Tel Aviv, Bloomberg News reported last Tuesday. Tyrant follows the life of an Arab dictator’s second son Barry, played by Adam Rayner, who reluctantly returns home to the Middle Eastern nation of his birth to join the family business away from his suburban life in America. The elaborate set production for the primetime drama included a crew of 300 and a reported cost of over $3 million [...]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture US & Canada Supermodel: Jewish Mothers Are Constantly Trying to Set Me Up With Their Sons

    Supermodel: Jewish Mothers Are Constantly Trying to Set Me Up With Their Sons

    Skokie, Il-born 25-year-old Erin Heatherton (Erin Heather Bubley) is rocking the modeling world. And in a new interview accompanying a cover spread for Miami’s Ocean Drive magazine, she says Jewish moms are “constantly trying to set her up with their sons.” Imagine that – who would have thought? “The moms, they’re doing what they do. It doesn’t matter what country they live in, what city – grandmothers, too,” she admitted. “But I’m probably going to do that too one day.” Heatherton was [...]

    Read more →
  • Education Israel First Ever: Turkish Academics to Visit Israel Holocaust Museum for Seminar

    First Ever: Turkish Academics to Visit Israel Holocaust Museum for Seminar

    Some 15 Turkish university professors and lecturers will take part in a first of its kind seminar at Holocaust museum Yad Vashem’s International School for Holocaust Studies starting next week. The trip is especially significant as Holocaust denial is rampant in the Arab world. A Palestinian professor was recently forced to resign after he led a trip to the Nazi extermination camp Auschwitz. Participants in the week-long program at Yad Vashem will experience in-depth tours of the museum’s archives and [...]

    Read more →
  • Israel Music Guns N’ Roses Guitarist Rocks Solo Acoustic Version of Israeli National Anthem – Hatikva (VIDEO)

    Guns N’ Roses Guitarist Rocks Solo Acoustic Version of Israeli National Anthem – Hatikva (VIDEO)

    Ok, fans, question time. What do: Guns ‘n’ Roses shred-meister guitarist, Ron “Bumblefoot” Thal (aka Ronald Jay Blumenthal), “Hard Rock Hotel”, “Las Vegas” and Israel’s ”Hatikva” (The Hope) national anthem… all have in common? I know, you’re probably thinking, “Hmm, ‘One of these things is not like the other,’ would fit in here,” right? Um, no, turns out. Caught backstage by blogger Darren Garnick at the swanky Vegas gig in early June, Thal, acoustic guitar in hand, fretted out a sweetly melodic [...]

    Read more →



Sign up now to receive our regular news briefs.