Media Microscope: Rouhani Roulette
Oct 30, 2013 | Allon Lee
Although Iran’s new President, the avuncular Hassan Rouhani, received sympathetic coverage following his star turn at the United Nations in late-September, there was a multiplicity of views on the significance of this new face of the Iranian regime.
The Age (Sept. 27) editorialised that “the road to…the US lifting sanctions on Iran is a long and tortuous one. What is welcome now, however, is that the United Nations is being seen to be the main forum for dealing with these international crises.”
The Australian, by contrast, said that “Iran must be judged by what [it] does, not says. Until it abandons uranium enrichment, it can expect no easing of sanctions or its crippling isolation.”
The editorial pointed out that Rouhani has “unequivocally affirmed Iran’s intention to continue enriching uranium, insisting its nuclear program is not about building nuclear weapons but generating electricity. If that were true, it beggars belief that any country would allow its economy to be crippled by sanctions,” Australian (Sept. 29).
Iranian-Israeli analyst Meir Javedanfar told James Carleton that “the ball right now is in the court of the Iranian Government” requiring them to agree to “very tough inspections… close Fordow and remove the 20 percent enriched uranium… however we are far away from that.” Javedanfar also explained that Iran’s Supreme Leader wants the option of nuclear weapons and is worried that improving relations with America would remove “one of the last characteristics of the revolution of 1979,” ABC Radio National “Breakfast” (Sept. 30).
Former US Ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton remarked that Rouhani “knows what his Western audience wants to hear. As Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator in 2003-05, he followed the same playbook… Rouhani’s strategy is clear: lower the rhetorical temperature…; make temporary, cosmetic concessions… and gain Western acceptance of its ‘reactor-grade’ uranium enrichment. Once…attained, Iran’s path to nuclear weapons will be unobstructed,” Australian (Oct.1).
John Lyons wrote that before Rouhani’s arrival “in New York… even in a chaotic region there was one clear faultline: Iran versus the US, Saudi Arabia and Israel”. Disappointingly, Lyons then proceeded to only focus on Israel, offering an unflattering portrait of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s response to Rouhani, Australian (Oct. 5).
Ramesh Thakur tut-tutted that “there is something deeply unsettling about those who possess around 17,000 nuclear weapons demanding that Iran must not get even one”. He described Israel as the “big WMD elephant in the Middle East room” for not ratifying the Chemical Weapons Convention and not signing the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).
Thakur argued that “the P5’s and Western nations’ double standards on their own and Israeli nuclear weapons respectively are going to get progressively harder to disguise, deny and sustain.”
Thakur’s tub thumping might have been more convincing if he included Pakistan and India, both countries that have tested nuclear weapons and not signed the NPT. Indeed, Thakur might have also noted Pakistan’s potential role in a regional arms race, with Saudi Arabia reportedly having arrangements in place to buy nuclear weapons from Islamabad should Iran go nuclear, Canberra Times (Oct. 21).
Analysts Reuel Gerecht and Mark Dubowitz warned that “Rouhani is lying when he says the Islamic Republic has never had any intention of building an atomic weapon… more than 19,000 centrifuges built and a heavy-water plant nearing completion” suggest otherwise.
Iran’s about-face, they wrote, is aimed at testing “Obama’s mettle… to see whether Tehran can have the bomb and sanctions relief.”
A genuine agreement requires that Teheran “suspend work at the Arak heavy-water facility, the regime’s plutonium path to a bomb, and stop enriching uranium to 20 percent, the big step in processing it to weapons-grade” and, critically, also provide “a verifiable end to centrifuge production”.
Without the P5+1 insisting on this second item “the regime could continue to manufacture centrifuges, shrinking the time required to convert unprocessed uranium to bomb-grade stock.”
To curtail Iran’s ambitions, they write, requires immediate increased economic sanctions because “abandoning the long quest for atomic weapons would be an extraordinary humiliation for Iran’s ruling class. That isn’t going to happen unless Iran’s supreme leader and his guards know with certainty that the Islamic order is finished if they don’t abandon the bomb,” Age (Oct. 15).