Right Web

Tracking militarists’ efforts to influence U.S. foreign policy

Washington Mulls Surprise Rouhani Victory in Iran Vote

Inter Press Service

The surprise victory of Hassan Rouhani in Iran’s June 14 election has provoked a range of reactions in Washington, ranging from cautious optimism about possible détente between Tehran and Washington to outright rejection of the notion that his presidency will produce any substantive change in policy, foreign or domestic.

While most Iran specialists fall into the former category, neo-conservatives and other pro-Israel forces insist that even if the president-elect wanted to be more forthcoming on western demands to curb Tehran’s nuclear programme and other concerns, he would still be overruled by the Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei, and other powerful hard-line interests.

Echoing concerns voiced by Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, the latter also expressed worry that Rouhani’s more “moderate” image – especially in contrast to the belligerence of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad – may lull western governments into making undesirable concessions.

“The search for a ‘moderate’ Iranian leader has beguiled every American president since the revolution of 1979,” according to the Wall Street Journal’s neo-conservative editorial board. “But the hunt for the unicorn seems destined to begin again with the breathless reporting that Iranians have elected 64-year-old cleric Hassan Rohani as their next president.”

President Barack Obama himself no doubt added to those concerns Monday when, after a bilateral meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin at the G-8 Summit in Northern Ireland, he told reporters that the two leaders “expressed cautious optimism that with a new election [in Iran], we may be able to move forward on a dialogue that allows us to resolve the problems with Iran’s nuclear program”.

Rouhani’s first-round victory, with just under 51 percent of the vote in a field of six candidates, came as a surprise to all but a few analysts here. Most expected a candidate, notably Tehran’s current nuclear negotiator, Saeed Jalili, with the hard-line views that are believed to reflect those of Khamenei, to triumph whether by the actual vote tally or by the kind of ballot rigging that many believe occurred in the contested 2009 election.

While Rouhani, who has several degrees including a doctorate from Caledonian University in Glasgow, has held senior foreign-policy positions in the regime – among them, the nuclear file under reformist President Mohammad Khatami – he was openly critical of Tehran’s recent diplomacy, particularly over its nuclear programme, during the election campaign.

“We have to calculate our national interests,” he said shortly before the election. “It’s nice for the centrifuges to run, but people’s livelihoods have to also run, our factories have to also run,” a reference to the impact of U.S. and western sanctions aimed at “crippling” Iran’s economy.

Rouhani, who will assume the presidency in August, gained the strong backing of both Khatami and former President Ali Hashemi Rafsanjani, a centrist whose own candidacy had been disqualified by the Guardian Council. Both leaders had also called for major changes in Iran’s foreign policy, including the regime’s handling of negotiations with the P5+1 (the United States, Britain, France, Russia, and China plus Germany) over the nuclear programme.

Most Iran experts believe Rouhani’s victory offers a major opportunity for progress in those negotiations. They note that he persuaded Khamenei to go along with a voluntary suspension of Iran’s enrichment-related and reprocessing activities while trying to negotiate an accord with the EU-3 (Britain, France and Germany).

In 2006, in his capacity as Khamenei’s representative on the regime’s Supreme National Security Council, he published a detailed offer in TIME magazine that included accepting strict limits on Iran’s uranium enrichment and enhanced International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) oversight of Iran’s nuclear-related facilities – only to be rejected by the administration of former President George W. Bush.

A key Rouhani subordinate when he headed the nuclear file, Seyed Hossein Mousavian, has worked continuously on the terms of a nuclear accord ever since he was accused of treason by the Ahmadinejad government and fled the country to accept a post at Princeton University. Most recently, he has emphasised that Iran must accept “the maximum level of transparency in cooperation with the IAEA” – a theme that Rouhani also stressed during a press conference in Tehran Monday.

“It’s not too outrageous to suspect that Mousavian will return to Iran,” according to Gary Sick, an Iran expert at Columbia University, who described Rouhani’s tone and style as the “anti-Ahmadinejad”. “There’s a continuity that is very real. Mousavian has argued there’s a deal to be made; it just takes some goodwill on both sides.”

Other Iran experts agree that Rouhani’s election makes a deal substantially more possible than it would have been had Jalili, whose platform stressed “resistance” to western demands, been elected.

But they argue that Washington must also be prepared to make concessions in order to persuade Khamenei to go along, especially in light of the fact that the United States has previously rejected Rouhani’s overtures.

“Rouhani’s election presents the United States and its partners with a test – of our intensions and seriousness about reaching an agreement,” wrote Paul Pillar, a CIA veteran who served as the National Intelligence Officer for the Near East from 2000 to 2005, the period of Rouhani’s greatest influence over Iran’s nuclear policy.

“Failure of the test will confirm suspicions in Tehran that we do not want a deal and instead are stringing along negotiations while waiting for the sanctions to wreak more damage,” he wrote on his nationalinterest.org blog.

“Passage of the test will require placing on the table a proposal that, in return for the desired restrictions on Iran’s nuclear activities, incorporates significant relief from economic sanctions and at least tacit acceptance of a continued peaceful Iranian nuclear program, to include low-level enrichment of uranium,” according to Pillar.

Describing Rouhani’s victory as a “game-changer”, Vali Nasr, dean of the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, argued that Washington must be willing to offer substantial sanctions relief in order to strike a deal.

“For the past eight years, U.S. policy has relied on pressure – threats of war and international economic sanctions – rather than incentives to change Iran’s calculus. Continuing with that approach will be counterproductive. It will not provide Rowhani with the cover for a fresh approach to nuclear talks,” he wrote on foreignpolicy.com.

But such thinking is precisely what worries neo-conservatives and leaders of the Israel lobby.

The White House “no doubt will ramp up its beseeching diplomacy to strike a nuclear deal with the Rohani government”, the Journal’s editorial writers warned Monday. “President Obama is desperate to find some agreement to avoid having to launch a military strike. Expect Mr. Rohani to go along for the talks, but mainly to ease Western sanctions and buy more nuclear time.”

The same forces are similarly worried about the replacement of Ahmadinejad by a less bombastic and far more sophisticated Iranian president.

In a blog entitled “Rooting for Jalili”, Daniel Pipes, the president of the Middle East Forum, wrote that the same logic that led him to support Ahmadinejad’s re-election four years ago applied to this election.

It “is better to have a bellicose, apocalyptic, in-your-face Ahamdinejad who scares the world than a sweet-talking (the 2009 moderate candidate Mir-Hossein) Mousavi who again lulls it to sleep, even as thousands of centrifuges whir away”, he concluded.

Jim Lobe, the Washington bureau chief of Inter Press Service, blogs on U.S. foreign policy at http://www.lobelog.com.

Share RightWeb

Featured Profiles

The millionaire pastor of the Cornerstone Church in Texas, John Hagee argues that U.S. support for Israel will play a “a pivotal role in the second coming” of Jesus. He has also risen to new prominence during the Trump administration.


Michael Gerson, an evangelical Christian who served as a chief aide and speechwriter in the George W. Bush White House, is a conservative columnist for the Washington Post and one of Donald Trump’s harshest critics on the right, calling him an “unhinged president.”


Robert Kagan, a cofounder of the Project for the New American Century, is a neoconservative policy pundit and historian based at the Brookings Institution.


Mira Ricardel, former weapons marketer for Boeing, is the deputy national security adviser under John Bolton. She is a well-known foreign policy hawk who has served in key positions in the administration of George W. Bush and, earlier, in the office of former Senator Robert Dole (R-KS).


Fred Fleitz left his role as chief of staff at the National Security Council under John Bolton to succeed notorious Islamophobe Frank Gaffney as president and CEO of the Center for Security Policy.


Brian Hook is the director of policy planning and senior policy advisor to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and is the head of the Iran Action Group.


Haim Saban is a media mogul and major donor to the Democratic Party known for his hardline stance on Israel and opposition to the Iran nuclear deal.


For media inquiries,
email rightwebproject@gmail.com

From the Wires

U.S. supporters of Israel are in a bind: public opinion is changing; there are more actors publicly challenging Israel; and the crude, heavy-handed tactics they have successfully used in the past to silence criticism now only aggravate the situation.


As the civilian death toll from Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen grows and the backlash against Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s role in Khashoggi’s murder escalates, former Sen. Norm Coleman’s control of Republican Party campaign purse strings positions him as a key influencer of Republican congressional action, or inaction, in curtailing the increasingly aggressive and reckless actions of Saudi Arabia.


Increasingly, Turkey and Saudi Arabia are positioned as rivals, each with pretensions to Middle Eastern influence or even hegemony. It’s not clear whether they can continue to coexist without one or the other—or both—backing down. This has made it more difficult for the United States to maintain its ties with both countries.


What does President Trump’s recent nomination of retired Army General John Abizaid to become the next U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia signify? Next to nothing — and arguably quite a lot.


The Donald Trump administration’s handling of nuclear negotiations with Saudi Arabia promises to lay bare some realities about security issues and nuclear programs in that part of the world that the administration has refused to acknowledge.


Eminent U.S. foreign policy expert Stephen Walt’s new book critique’s the “liberal hegemony” grand strategy that has dominated U.S. foreign policy since the end of the Cold War.


(Lobelog)  Retired Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz told LobeLog he will remain on the board of the Gatestone Institute, a right-wing think tank that receives money from Trump megadonors Robert and Rebekah Mercer and disseminates anti-Muslim and anti-refugee conspiracy theories. Last week, LobeLog reported that Dershowitz received $120,000 from the Gatestone Institute in 2017 and…


RightWeb
share