Iranian President-elect Hasan Rowhani’s maiden speech on Monday may have left observers optimistic that Iran would change course on its nuclear program, or at least slow its pace. But a closer examination of Rowhani’s actions as top nuclear negotiator paint a gloomier picture.
Promising to follow “a path of moderation,” Rowhani on Monday endorsed closer cooperation with the West on Iran’s nuclear dossier in order to scale back crippling international sanctions. He called for greater transparency in Iran’s nuclear program to “make it clear to the whole world that the measures and activities of Iran are within international regulations and mechanisms.”
As his country’s chief nuclear negotiator, Rowhani famously suspended the enrichment of uranium for two years between 2003 and 2005 — fearing the US might target Iran after ousting Iraq’s Saddam Hussein. But as Iran researcher Sasan Aghlani of London’s Chatham House pointed out, it was Rowhani who also resumed the enrichment during the term of “moderate” president Mohammad Khatami.
“The concessions of Khatami and Rowhani, as well as the resumption of enrichment, indicates that the Supreme Leader’s strategic posture is based on fluid calculations of Iran’s national interest and security,” wrote Aghlani earlier this month. All decisions pertaining to the nuclear program, in other words, are subject to changing political circumstances and the discretion of Ayatalloh Ali Khamenei, with the president serving at best as adviser.
‘Rowhani is a dyed-in-the-wool Khomeinist and part of the consensus on Iranian nuclear energy, which is a code word for nuclear weapons’
What’s more, according to Ze’ev Maghen, an Iran scholar at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies at Bar Ilan University and Jerusalem’s Shalem College, Rowhani is himself convinced of the necessity of an advanced nuclear weapons program, and interested in using soft language merely as a stalling tactic in best Iranian negotiating tradition.
“Rowhani is a dyed-in-the-wool Khomeinist and part of the consensus on Iranian nuclear energy, which is a code word for nuclear weapons,” Maghen told The Times of Israel on Monday. And “he is no friendlier on Israel than [outgoing President Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad. The only difference between the two is one of style.”
According to Foreign Policy’s Elias Groll, a 2004 speech by Rowhani provides further indication that the new president’s goal is to place the world before a fait accompli on the nuclear issue.
“If one day we are able to complete the fuel cycle and the world sees that it has no choice — that we do possess the technology — then the situation will be different,” Rowhani said in that address. “The world did not want Pakistan to have an atomic bomb or Brazil to have the fuel cycle, but Pakistan built its bomb and Brazil has its fuel cycle, and the world started to work with them. Our problem is that we have not achieved either one, but we are standing at the threshold.”
That was then. Iran is a lot closer to the threshold today.
Maghen said that Iran views nuclear weapons as a strategic defensive and offensive tool. And its resounding success in manipulating the world, over more than a decade of futile negotiations, has left it with no reason to change course.
“Iran is currently in the driver’s seat. It calls the shots and everyone [in the West] scurries back and forth. For Rowhani to lose all that would be crazy,” said Maghen. “It would also be political suicide.”