Arabic media review

Obama-Rouhani tango irks Iranian reactionaries

Echoing Israeli leaders, commanders of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards denounce direct US-Iran talks

Michael Bassin is a founding member of the Gulf-Israel Business Council, a co-founder at ScaleUpSales Ltd, and the author of "I Am Not a Spy: An American Jew Goes Deep In The Arab World & Israeli Army."

US President Barack Obama speaks to his Iranian counterpart, Hassan Rouhani, on September 27, 2013, marking the first time the two countries' leaders had engaged each other since 1979. (Pete Souza via White House Twitter page)
US President Barack Obama speaks to his Iranian counterpart, Hassan Rouhani, on September 27, 2013, marking the first time the two countries' leaders had engaged each other since 1979. (Pete Souza via White House Twitter page)

The historic phone call that took place last Friday between US President Barack Obama and Iranian President Hasan Rouhani, the first direct contact between the leaders of those two countries since 1980, has prompted a wave of verbal attacks by leaders of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards that could spoil the diplomatic opening, Arab media report.

The London-based Al-Quds Al-Arabi explains that many of Iran’s senior military leaders believe Rouhani should be handling his dealings with the US very differently, or even not at all.

“The (Iranian) President came to New York with a firm stance,” General Mohammed Ali Jafari said. “He refused to meet with Obama. But, it was also incumbent on him to refuse to talk to him over the phone. He should have waited for concrete steps by the US government.”

Jafari went on to say that as a response to Iran’s “good will” displayed at a meeting of the UN General Assembly, the US “should lift all sanctions against the Iranian nation and the restrictions on Iranian assets frozen in the US. It should stop its aggression against Iran and agree to Iran’s nuclear program.”

General Amir Ali Haji Zadeh, the air force commander of the Revolutionary Guards, added that “we cannot forget the US aggression just from some basic contact and Obama’s smile. This aggression has lasted half a century. If the situation is going to change then I do not believe it will or can happen quickly.”

Still, the Arab press emphasizes that this basic contact has got Israeli leaders extremely worried about the chances for containing Iran’s developing nuclear program.

According to the London-based pan-Arab daily Al-Hayat, Israeli President Shimon Peres told reporters on a visit to The Hague that “Israeli wants deeds, not words, from the Iranian leadership.” Expressing hope that Iran’s future actions would show that country was headed down a new path, Peres nevertheless gave good reason for skepticism.

“Iran’s goal of making long-range missiles has no purpose other than to load nuclear warheads,” Peres said. “We all want Iran to return to the camp of peace, but no one of us can make concessions on the world’s most minimum demands.”

Obama has made great strides over the past few days to calm Israeli fears about the diplomatic opening. The Doha-based media network Al-Jazeera notes that in a phone conversation with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday, Obama promised sanctions against Iran would not be eased before the right time and underlined Washington’s willingness to resort to military action if all other efforts fail. In response, Netanyahu explained his theory on why Iran is reaching out to the US.

“The combination of a credible military threat and pressure of sanctions is behind bringing Iran back to the negotiating table,” Netanyahu said. “In order for diplomacy to work, we must keep the pressure as it is. The pressure should not be eased until success can be verified.”

One way international leaders are seeking to verify Iran’s intentions is by opening up the possibility of Iranian participation in the next Syrian peace conference to be held in Geneva in November. Iran remains one of Syrian President Bashar Assad’s main backers. Its positive participation could sway Assad to grant concessions that could help bring the Syrian civil war to a close.

The Saudi-owned A-Sharq Al-Awsat notes that Western powers would like Iran to sign onto an agreement that would see the creation of a transitional Syrian government and Bashar Assad’s eventual exit from power. Thus far, Iran has agreed only to the principle that a peaceful resolution to the Syrian crisis is needed. With so much potential opposition at home to warmer ties with the United States, it is unlikely that President Rouhani will have much leeway on the Syrian issue for now.

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