Within hours of the Obama administration’s tentative indication on Friday that President Barack Obama might be willing to meet with new Iranian President Hasan Rouhani, an influential Republican member of Congress cautioned that the administration should not put much faith in Tehran’s recent diplomatic overtures.
The White House intimated on Friday that a meeting between Obama and Rouhani might take place when both leaders are in New York for the annual UN General Assembly meeting next week.
Speaking to reporters aboard Air Force One, White House deputy spokesman Josh Earnest said the US would be ready to engage in talks “on the basis of mutual respect” with Iran over its disputed nuclear program. Earnest said the White House wants Tehran to prove that its program is only for civilian purposes.
The US, UN and many Western nations believe the program is intended to grant Iran the capability to construct nuclear weapons.
“Rouhani is a master of deceit who has been putting on an all-out charm offensive since he took office,” Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), who chairs the House Subcommittee on the Middle East and North Africa, said in a statement Friday.
“In many ways Rouhani is much more dangerous than [former Iranian president Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad. At least with Ahmadinejad you get what you see – his hatred for Israel and the United States is not disguised with rhetoric or spurious gestures of goodwill,” added Ros-Lehtinen, who is considered a staunchly pro-Israel member of the House of Representatives.
Ahmadinejad has openly called for Israel’s destruction and repeatedly denied the Holocaust.
“Rouhani, on the other hand, has managed to fool many with his manipulating words and his dog and pony show, and some have been so hopeful that he will be any different than Ahmadinejad that they have swallowed his act hook, line and sinker,” Ros-Lehtinen continued.
But, she warned, “Rouhani has no control over Iran’s nuclear program, and he will not change the regime’s stance on Israel. He is a regime loyalist, staunch supporter of the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei, and vehemently opposes Israel and [the] Jewish State’s right to exist. His latest acts of tweeting a Rosh Hashana message and having the only Jewish member of the Iranian Majlis accompany him at the UN [are] all just smoke and mirrors.”
Rouhani “will use any opportunity he can to try to fool the US and the West into offering concessions and to stall for time while Iran completes its nuclear weapons program, as he had bragged about doing once before. Believing that he has any other agenda is folly.”
She concluded with a message for the White House. “The Administration must not fall for this charm offensive, and must increase the pressure on the regime with more sanctions until Iran completely abandons its nuclear pursuit and dismantles its program.”
Michal Shmulovich contributed to this report.