WASHIGNTON, September 25, 2013 — Unfortunately, President Obama will not be meeting with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani during the UN General Assembly in New York this week. After rumors of a handshake turned into a sit down, and rumors of a sit down turned into a potential negotiation over Iranian nuclear policy, the Iranian government announced that President Rouhani would indeed not be sitting down with President Obama to discuss anything.
But why? Why did the Iranian government decide to pick up their ball and go play with someone else?
And how did word come from “officials” in Iran that Rouhani would not be meeting with Obama? Isn’t the “President” of Iran the second most powerful leader in the country?
Another question comes out of all of this: is Rouhani at odds with his own government over the future of Iran-Western relations?
Let’s take a look at Rouhani and some of his actions over the past few months alone.
Rouhani was educated at Glasgow University in Scotland and received a law degree from the University of Tehran. He also received clerical training at Qom Howza, which is an Islamist school founded after the 1979 Revolution at the behest of the newly anointed Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khomeini. He ran for President of Iran based on improving both civil rights, and Iranian-Western relations. He is seen as a moderate, dallying in both religious conservatism and civil reform ideals.
Even though he has only been President since early August, Rouhani has already gotten busy rocking the international boat.
Over the most recent Jewish holiday, Rosh Hashanah, Rouhani tweeted the following:
— Hassan Rouhani (@HassanRouhani) September 4, 2013”
This coming from the same government whose Supreme Leader said not too long ago that Israel was a “cancerous tumor.” Israel, if you were not aware, is populated mostly by Jewish individuals who celebrate Rosh Hashanah.
After the alleged chemical weapons attacks on the Syrian people at the hands of their President Bashar al-Assad, Rouhani tweeted:
“Iran gives notice to international community to use all its might to prevent use of chemical weapons anywhere in the world, esp. in #Syria
— Hassan Rouhani (@HassanRouhani) August 27, 2013”
The President of Syria’s second largest ally behind Russia not only condemned the use of chemical weapons but urged military action to punish the use of such weapons.
The next day, this tweet was tweeted on Twitter.
“Any action on #Syrian crisis should be based on intl law, lead to more stability in region&reduce terrorism.Mid-East doesnt need another war
— Hassan Rouhani (@HassanRouhani) August 28, 2013”
With the shout out to Rosh Hashanah, the original condemnation of Syria, and the President of Iran’s desire to meet with President Obama, are we seeing a possibly attempt to move Iran towards a more Western friendly stance?
Another question stemming from this: who is reining President Rouhani in at every turn?
It is clear that the West and Iran will soon sit awkwardly across the negotiating table from one another to discuss the 900 kiloton nuclear gorilla in the room. When that time comes, it would be better for the West and Iran if there was someone in Iran who the West saw as more aligned with peace in the region and some measures of reform. It is possible that Rouhani sees the writing on the wall and is attempting to make inroads into the American and Western political spheres in an attempt to soften the beach before the landing.
The United States and the West should not rebuff efforts from Rouhani in establishing relationships and contacts with them. His efforts in civil rights and Western relations reform have the potential to be a game changer. Rouhani obviously sees the economic and civil impact Western sanctions have had on his people and could see these meetings and tweets as a way to the negotiating table. Either way, if the Ayatollah who we don’t like all too much is trying to reign this guy in, maybe we should be listening to what he has to say. And if Rouhani is trying to push his country toward the middle of the road, perhaps the West should give him a nudge in the right direction…maybe do it a little better than we did last time.
Either way, Rouhani bears watching, especially to see how his proposed policies and his actions are addressed by the strictly conservative Ayatollah.
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