Arabic media review

Arabs skeptical of West-Iran rapprochement

With news focusing on Obama’s speech, Hasan Rouhani’s overtures towards the West fail to impress Arab columnists

Elhanan Miller is the former Arab affairs reporter for The Times of Israel

Iranian President Hasan Rouhani, right, meets with French President Francois Hollande during the 68th session of the United Nations General Assembly at United Nations headquarters Tuesday, Sept. 24, 2013 (photo credit: AP/Craig Ruttle)
Iranian President Hasan Rouhani, right, meets with French President Francois Hollande during the 68th session of the United Nations General Assembly at United Nations headquarters Tuesday, Sept. 24, 2013 (photo credit: AP/Craig Ruttle)

US President Barack Obama’s speech at the UN Tuesday leads the headlines of all major Arab dailies on Wednesday, with some focusing on his treatment of Syria while others wonder about his future relations with Iran.

“Obama adopts diplomacy with Iran, and Rouhani refuses ‘casual meeting’,” reads the headline of Saudi-owned daily A-Sharq Al-Awsat, reporting that the Iranians refused an American proposal for a meeting between the two leaders. President Rouhani did not attend Obama’s speech, the daily notes.

“Obama urges to protect Syria’s institutions: Assad cannot remain,” reads the headline of London-based daily Al-Hayat, featuring an Image of the American president on the backdrop of the the green UN marble wall.

“US President Barack Obama differentiated between his refusal to allow Syrian President Bashar Assad to remain in power, since he is ‘incapable of regaining legitimacy’ and the need to maintain the institutions of the Syrian state and protect its minorities, naming especially the Alawite minority,” reads the article.

“Obama placed the Iranian nuclear issue as his top priority in the region, alongside the peace process. He addressed Iran in conciliatory language.”

Meanwhile, Saudi-owned news site Elaph focuses on Obama’s conciliatory approach to Egypt’s new government in his speech.

“Egypt’s politicians welcome Obama’s abandonment of the Brotherhood,” reads Elaph’s headline, reporting that Foreign Minister Nabil Fahmy was among the first to congratulate the American president.

“In his statement, President Obama decided the teetering American stance towards the political developments in Egypt following the ouster of the Brotherhood president and the creation of a provisional government,” reads the article.

“Rouhani meets Hollande and avoids meeting Obama,” reads the headline of an article on the website of Al-Jazeera, featuring the photo of a handshake between the leaders of Iran and France.

According to the channel, this was the first meeting between leaders of the two countries since 2005. It last 40 minutes and tackled the Iranian nuclear program, the crisis in Syria and the situation in Lebanon.

But Europe and Iran can never grow close as long as Iran insists on developing nuclear weapons, argues Al-Hayat columnist Randa Taqi A-Din.

“The meeting of Francois Hollande with his counterpart Hasan Rouhani yesterday at the UN at Iran’s request cannot solve Tehran’s problem with the West and the world in the short or even mediate term, so long as Iran insists on its right to develop nuclear weapons. This issue is crucial for the West, since Israel will not compromise on it, even if its ally Barack Obama forcefully opts for a deal with Iran.”

Iran is still the same, despite smiley face, claim columnists

A number of Arab opinion articles are dedicated on Wednesday to the apparent thawing of relations between the US and Iran since the election of Hasan Rouhani.

“Rouhani in New York: is Iran recalculating its moves?” wonders the editorial of London-based daily Al-Quds Al-Arabi.

“Iran’s semi-imperial influence does not match its economic and military power. Iran is not among the 20 most powerful economies in the world, like neighboring Saudi Arabia and Turkey. Militarily, the budget of the US ministry of defense is double Iran’s annual gross national product. America’s military power is 100 times stronger than Iran’s.”

“However, the balance of power in the so-called Middle East cannot be measured economically and militarily alone, but through an intricate array of factors.”

Iran, claims the editor, has recently began sending positive signals Westward, marking a clear change of policy compared to the days of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

“The matter is certainly not due to Hasan Rouhani’s moderation, but to the understanding of Iran’s official establishment of developments around it. After using the card of missile threats … and after its costly drowning in the Syrian swamp, Iran has begun to re-calibrate its strategic considerations.”

Meanwhile, A-Sharq Al-Awsat columnist Iyad Abu-Shaqra justifies the jubilation of his Iranian friends towards the new Iranian-American Spring, a sentiment hardly shared by Arabs.

“Our relationship with Iran these days is one that may be dubbed as ‘problematic’ to say the least, so as not to say hostile… today Hasan Rouhani stands in New York to address an international community very inclined to think well of him and adopt his vision of turning the page and constructing a new era of constructive cooperation.”

“Politicians in the Arab world and the international community know full-well that the true decision-maker in Tehran is still Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei… the change in presidents is just a superficial transitional stage [for Iran] to catch its breath and seize the opportunity.”    

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