In what amounts to a dressing down of U.S. foreign policy, newly elected Iranian President Hassan Rouhani runs the risk of looking like the sober man in the room.
Following Vladimir Putin’s lead, Rouhani took to American newspaper The Washington Post to voice his broad approach to foreign policy in the Middle East.
First he addresses the oversimplified “unilateral” approach to solving conflict:
More than a decade and two wars after 9/11, al-Qaeda and other militant extremists continue to wreak havoc. Syria, a jewel of civilisation, has become the scene of heartbreaking violence, including chemical weapons attacks, which we strongly condemn. In Iraq, 10 years after the American-led invasion, dozens still lose their lives to violence every day. Afghanistan endures similar, endemic bloodshed.
The unilateral approach, which glorifies brute force and breeds violence, is clearly incapable of solving issues we all face, such as terrorism and extremism.
He alludes to these examples as violations of a country’s identity — likely meaning their sovereignty, not unlike the Putin-Syria argument — and pivots to Iran’s nuclear program.
Counter what previous statements may have indicated, he intends to keep it:
At their core, the vicious battles in Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria are over the nature of those countries’ identities and their consequent roles in our region and the world. The centrality of identity extends to the case of our peaceful nuclear energy program. To us, mastering the atomic fuel cycle and generating nuclear power is as much about diversifying our energy resources as it is about who Iranians are as a nation, our demand for dignity and respect and our consequent place in the world.
The “consequent place in the world” can be interpreted as a nuclear-capable state, and as such, a state thusly impervious to “unilateral” identity adjustments.
“The ultimate aim of Iran, as I understand it, is they want to be recognised as a major power in the Middle East,” Mohamed ElBaradei said in 2009, when he was Director of the U.N.’s International Atomic Energy Agency.
“This is to them the road to get that recognition, to power and prestige,” he said, and “also an insurance policy against what they have heard in the past about regime change, axis of evil, what have you.”
Rounani then finally, without saying so directly, touches on the Iran-Israel rivalry and the fate of the Palestinians — though he does so in such a soft way as to appear as the soberest, most charismatic voice in the room:
We must join hands to constructively work toward national dialogue, whether in Syria or Bahrain. We must create an atmosphere where peoples of the region can decide their own fates. As part of this, I announce my government’s readiness to help facilitate dialogue between the Syrian government and the opposition.
We and our international counterparts have spent a lot of time — perhaps too much time — discussing what we don’t want rather than what we do want. This is not unique to Iran’s international relations. In a climate where much of foreign policy is a direct function of domestic politics, focusing on what one doesn’t want is an easy way out of difficult conundrums for many world leaders. Expressing what one does want requires more courage.
Of course Bahrain is a reference to the presence of America’s 5th Fleet and the argument that Washington props up a regime against the people’s will. Finally, Rouhani makes a veiled plea not to get bombed for continuing to enrich nuclear fuel:
After 10 years of back-and-forth, what all sides don’t want in relation to our nuclear file is clear. The same dynamic is evident in the rival approaches to Syria.
Of course, while a direct departure from Holocaust denial and calls to push Israel into the sea, these are still just words.
As White House Press Secretary Jay Carney reminded everyone about Iran’s statements, “Actions are more important than words.”
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