Iran’s New President Reaches Out, Washington Balks

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Ebrahim Noroozi / AP

Iranian President-elect Hasan Rouhani visits Ayatollah Khomeini's shrine, just outside Tehran, on June 16, 2013

Updated July 23, 2013, 10:50 a.m.

Last Saturday, incoming Iranian President Hassan Rouhani tweeted approvingly that “131 [U.S.] Congressmen have signed a letter calling on President #Obama to give peace a chance with Iran’s new president #Rouhani.” He followed it later in the day with a tweet announcing, “National Security & Foreign Policy Committee of Iran’s Majlis [parliament] to look into potential change in US approach to Iran presstv.ir/detail/2013/07…

Set aside for a moment the fact that the incoming Iranian President tweets. Rouhani’s move to highlight a largely symbolic letter by a powerless group of House Democrats is part of his broader effort to shore up Iranian political support for improved relations with the U.S. And it shows just how big an atmospheric shift is under way in Iranian diplomacy in the wake of Rouhani’s election. Whether the change is just atmospheric, or is something more substantive, is a key question for President Obama as he decides how to respond to Rouhani’s outreach.

As things stand, the U.S. and Iran are potentially on a course for war in Obama’s second term. Last year, Obama promised military action, if necessary, to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon. Iran says it has only peaceful intentions, but has accelerated its nuclear program over the past year even as it has been careful not to go far enough to trigger an Israeli attack.

(PHOTOS: Iranians Cast Vote in an Uneasy Election)

Since he won the election with a surprising 50.7% in the first round of voting on June 14, Rouhani has taken a much softer tone on the U.S. than his predecessor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. On June 18, he tweeted a “flash from the past” picture of himself visiting a U.S. field hospital set up to treat victims of a 2003 earthquake in Iran. At his first press conference after the election, Rouhani said the U.S. and Iran need to heal the “very old wound” between them and “find solutions to past issues.” Says the Majlis’ National Security and Foreign Policy Committee deputy chairman Ahmad-Reza Dastgheib: “It is clear that Mr. Rouhani is seeking to change Iran’s diplomatic process, and that he will make efforts in this regard.”

There are two opposing interpretations of Rouhani’s outreach in Washington. Doves approvingly cite Rouhani’s suspension of the Iranian nuclear program in 2003 when he was Tehran’s top negotiator and say now that he’s President he may be willing to do so again, a key U.S. demand. They say the U.S. needs to make a big gesture to show it is open to diplomatic progress and to help bolster him against Iranian hard-liners. Former national-security advisers Brent Scowcroft and Zbigniew Brzezinski have endorsed a call for Obama to meet directly with Rouhani this fall when the two men are in New York City for the U.N. General Assembly. “We have to take advantage of this moment,” says Joe Cirincione, president of the Ploughshares Fund. Cirincione says of an Obama-Rouhani meeting “a gesture like that to make it easier for Rouhani to make the deal.”

Hawks suspect Rouhani is just a clever diplomatic tactician and view the calls for softness as a dangerous misstep. They suspect Rouhani’s outreach is a ruse: an attempt to get relief from crippling sanctions by changing the tone of Iranian diplomacy without making any major concessions on the nuclear front. “They’ve built up a capability that is very impressive,” says Joseph DeTrani, former ambassador and former head of the National Counterproliferation Center at the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. “Walking away from that capability? I don’t think there’s anything out there that says anything like that,” DeTrani says. Obama’s former top Iran adviser, Dennis Ross, wrote last month in the New York Times that Rouhani’s intentions were unclear, but that “it would be foolish to think that lifting the pressure now would improve the chances that he would be allowed to offer us what we need: an agreement, or credible Iranian steps toward one, under which Iran would comply with its international obligations on the nuclear issue.”

(MORE: Viewpoint: What Ancient Persian History Tells Us About Iran’s Future)

Ray Takeyh of the Council on Foreign Relations says the easy test is whether Rouhani agrees to the International Atomic Energy Agency requests for broader inspections of the Iranian nuclear program and other measures that Iran has been ignoring for years. The Administration’s likely approach, says Gary Samore, executive director of Harvard’s Belfer Center and Obama’s former top counterproliferation aide, is to stay the course, going neither softer nor harder on the Iranians. Samore says the U.S. will put the burden on Rouhani, awaiting his response to the latest diplomatic offer from Washington and the group of countries that have been working to reach a deal with Iran.

But if the U.S. is trying to put the ball in Iran’s court, Rouhani is already finding a way to volley it back to Washington. Asked by reporters Sunday if American and European officials had been invited to Rouhani’s Aug. 4 swearing-in at the Majlis, Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Araghchi said, “Officials of all countries have been invited.” The White House and the State Department did not respond immediately when asked if the U.S. would attend.

The stakes for Obama, and the U.S., are high in deciding how to respond to Rouhani. An agreement with Iran would be a lasting and important achievement for U.S. national security and for Obama’s presidency. But a successful Iranian effort to achieve nuclear status would be a potential disaster, launching either a new war in the Middle East, or a cascade of efforts by other countries in the region to get nuclear weapons too.

Update: Asked at his weekly press conference Tuesday which countries had been invited to Rouhani’s swearing in, Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Araghchi said, “Our invitation includes all countries, of course except the U.S. and the Zionist regime, which we essentially do not consider to be a country.” A senior Obama administration official confirmed that the U.S. did not receive an invitation.

40 comments
jimmyjimmyjimmy111
jimmyjimmyjimmy111

I agree JoesephClark and Mikevolze, I think its high time that Israel put Iran in its place. Oh wait....never mind. I just had a flash back to 2006. Shiver. 

JoesephClark
JoesephClark

After all of the things said by Rouhani in the past few days (just stumbled on this article) you'd think that all of this talk regarding peace would mean something.  But then again it's coming from a man who watched former allies in the revolution be slaughtered by the Ayatollah, so we know it to be false.

MohammadJavadZeidi
MohammadJavadZeidi

i'm mohammadjavad from iran,i want to propose onething to MR OBAMA:

iranian people are really great and calm people,we want tohave relationship to all the world.

we elected mr rouhani inorder to show our disagreement with their policy toard the word

SO PRESIDENT OBAMA PLZ HELP OUR NATION TO HAVE RELATIONSHIP WITH THE WORLD.

we are different from arab people.arab people have nothing except oil but most our youngster in iran are well educated

we love to have interactive relationship with a great & lovely country like USA

LOVE U PRESIDENT OBAMA 

ChangeIranNow
ChangeIranNow

While it's reassuring to see Rouhani take to Twitter to demonstrate his moderation, the crucial element missing is if Iran backs up that rhetoric with concrete action or is this just more window dressing for the benefit of Western media? Will Iran release political prisoners? Will Iran suspend its pursuit of nuclear weapons? Will Iran halt arms shipments to Syria? Will Iran reopen shuttered opposition newspapers? Those questions and much more are the only questions unanswered that need answering not by Rouhani by Khamenei. Only then can we see if Iran wishes to face the future as a member of the international community or continue as a pariah. Talk is great and a key part of diplomacy, but it can't be confused with actual progress where agreements are stuck and then verified. These are the kinds of litmus tests Iran needs to pass and the US should hold it accountable.

allenwoll
allenwoll

.

A nuclear weapon in the hands of one of the smaller nations is simply a high-priced ticket to self-destruction upon first use. 

.

outsider
outsider

It doesn't hurt to listen; why not? It's not like the US has to remove the sanctions in order to just hear what he has to say.

cpinfl
cpinfl

Why shouldn't Iran be able to develop nuclear weapons? Iran should agree to not make any nuclear weapons only after all of the other countries in the world give up their nuclear weapons. What country is the only country in history to use a nuclear weapon in war two times?

JayNoor
JayNoor

@roknsteve  This is first time i hear that distinction, as far as I know almost all the Bombers and the terrorist attackers have been Sunni and almost all Sunni countries are U.S allies and under its protection, from 9/11 hijackers and Taliban and the rest of them from shoe bomber to last one Boston Bombers and under wear bomber.

get better info

AndresCB
AndresCB

Iran leaders are but a bunch of liars and deceivers.  They are buying time to get their bombs. 

AdamRussell
AdamRussell

Talking to your enemies may not always help, but not talking is guaranteed to not help.

RezaTavakolian
RezaTavakolian

IRAN IS IN A COLD WAR WITH THE WEST AND THE ZIONISTS. Internet restriction is just a part of the Iranian leadership wrong defensive strategy against the Zionists / Western propaganda / influence. Iranian leadership should realize that such strategy is not a solution. A well educated and informed society always stand by those who defend the nation and is key to the survival of the Islamic Republic. Educating and informing the Iranian society is not only defensive but also an offensive strategy against the harmful side of the western culture. Iranian economy is a war economy and it can be turned around in a short  time if Iranian leadership stop its fear of the West and Zionists for  regime change and start openly building a reliable nuclear arsenal. IT IS AS  SIMPLE AS THAT. At present time IsraHell and Western nation do not have the capability and resources to do anything except political / economical pressure against Iranian nuclear ambition and that will stop  as soon as Iran test A NUCLEAR DEVICE AND DECLARE ITSELF AS A NUCLEAR  POWER NATION.

RezaTavakolian
RezaTavakolian

Once up on a time, You could say the same thing about British colonial empire. It was said the sun never goes down in the British empire. THAT EMPIRE COULD NOT SURVIVE FOR LONG BY STEALING OTHER NATION WEALTH AND IS NO MORE. We should remember British empire did not owed 17 Trillion dollars to the rest of the world. And that 17 trillion debt is just tip of the iceberg. In reality U.S. economy is the HOUSE OF CARDS. Its fundamentally spoiled and Its worthless economy is just one crisis away from total disintegration. In reality U.S. debt is not 17 trillion but close to 70 trillion considering all its obligation internal and externally. Such as welfare and social security obligation. U.S. owed to china just over TWO TRILLION DOLLARS . History shows the way of life and its government in the society known as the pirate of Caribbean to be as close to the U.S. society and government as we can imagine at least for the last half of the century. The pirate governed cities and town under their control. The pirate had law and order in their society and no one dare to cross the line and commit crime against other member of the pirate society. They had even free election and the rule of democracy ( Something which obviously is lacking in U.S. because officially and in practice U.S. is a Republic and not democratic.). The pirate society had everything that a modern society needed EXCEPT THEY DID NOT WANT TO WORK AND EARN THEIR INCOME. The pirate stole everything from others and were happy with their way of life. After WWII, U.S.government was acting like those pirate . Even though there was law and order within the U.S. territory, there was non for the U.S. government dealing with other nations. U.S. government disrespect the international law and order continuously. U.S. intimidated other nation with its military force. U.S. used its military to invade other society ( NATION ) to steal their wealth. Replacing elected government of other nation and placing puppet dictators to serve the U.S. interest. I have to say that most of the American people do not understand the way their government is functioning as Zionists that control everything in the U.S and specially by controlling the U.S. media brainwashing and preventing people to understand were the U.S. wealth and influence came from. Since WWII, U.S.military invaded Korea, Vietnam, Egypt, Lebanon, Libya, Somalia, Panama, Afghanistan, Iraq. And involved in military and covert operation in Laos, Cambodia, south Korea, Japan, Indonesia, Jordan, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Taiwan, Pakistan. The list goes on an on. THAT WHAT THE U.S. IS ALL ABOUT WITH ZIONISTS IN CONTROL. IF THE PEOPLE OF THIS NATION DO NOT STOP THE ZIONISTS, THEN WHAT HAPPENED TO BRITISH EMPIRE AND THE PIRATE OF CARIBBEAN WILL BE THE U.S. DESTINY.

jusswundrin
jusswundrin

In one of his speeches, President Obama said of those belligerent countries in the Middle East, "We will extend a hand if you will unclench your fist".  Well, now is your chance Mr. President.

MrObvious
MrObvious

I honestly wouldn't blame the admin. Sure; the threat from Iran (talking about regular Iranians now) is slim to none. Most of the noise comes from the religiopolitical sphere. But it's not like Iran for most part first promises to do something and then subsequently break it.

roknsteve
roknsteve

The Mad Bomber's from Tehran who are supplying arms and fighters to Assad in Syria want to talk peace?  Joke of the Week?  I'm not laughing. 

arvay
arvay

Several points"

"Obama’s former top Iran adviser, Dennis Ross"

Ross earned the well-deserved moniker as "Israel's lawyer" and neither his objectivity nor loyalty to the interests of the US should be trusted by anyone. 

The threat to attack Iran is

--  a clear violation of the UN Charter. 

Just mentioning that as an aside -- the US has amply demonstrated its utter contempt for the UN and international law, which it views with the same disdain as the fourth Amendment to its own Constitution.

-- the core reality: an attack on Iran's nuclear facilities will release large amounts of radioactive fallout, it will be in many ways just like a nuclear attack. Iran has promised, and would be completely justified, in launching a retaliatory strike once it's certain it's detected an incoming strike. That means both Israeli targets and US military bases in the area. We can expect substantial American casualties, and confiscatory insurance rates even if the Straits if Hormuz are re-opened.

Very bad news for China, which may not take all this happily.

This will be all-out war, that may very well go nuclear. Fallout will drift over non-involved nations, and could kill millions in a worst-case scenario. 

-- This unprovoked, illegal attack on a nation that has not attacked the US clearly would be a major war crime, and subject to the standards and penalties established at Nuremberg. These would apply not only to political leaders, but also military personnel carrying out the attack. The US would clearly assume the role of an outlaw nation, which must be stopped at any cost. Before acting, these leaders and military personnel might want to think about a future when the US had fallen from primacy.

All parties agree that Iran's responses would include an all-out effort to build and deploy nuclear weapons. The only way to stop that would be a ground invasion and occupation. Or maybe the US will go for broke and try to exterminate all 77 million Iranians?

Unforeseen consequences. We should know about how this works by now. Will nuclear trigger fingers slip onto to triggers, with use 'em before you lose 'em the operational idea? Someone else launch a preventive war?

Looking at all of this, one may ask -- just how serious is Obama about attacking Iran?

Iran is not working on a nuclear weapon now. So, what's the cost benefit of taking on all the problems listed above? Even if they were working on a bomb -- which they are legally entitled to do -- it would still constitute insanity.

I for one hope this is a giant, inexcusable, criminal bluff. 

AminSan
AminSan

Ray Takeyh and his boss Dennis Ross were supposed to be in charge of Obama's first outreach to Iran. We all know how smooth that went with Stuxnet and Flame, so to quote those two AIPAC appointees now is a great disservice. They don't represent the US, they get their marching orders from NuttyYahoo.

mikevolze
mikevolze

@JoesephClark I agree, it's high time something is done to protect our former allies from the crazy regime in Tehran.  Rouhani hasn't done anything to stop the nuclear program from becoming lethal, and he was a part of Khomeini's inner circle.  Enough is enough.

SuperDooper
SuperDooper

@MohammadJavadZeidiOver the years, I have read countless stupid comments on the internet. But your comment really takes the top prize in that category. It is so funny and simpleton that I had to make an account here on Time, in order just to reply to you and give you the top prize for cognitive stupor of the most extreme variety. 

The states in the world do stuff based on their own national interests (or perceptions of). It is all cold and ruthless calculations that determine the interactions between states. And then there are variables that formulate those calculations such as how much military power a state has or its technological level etc. Mr Obama will do what is best for US. Whether by force or by "negotiation" supported by force. If millions of Iranians are to be killed and maimed for US to achieve its objectives, it will be done without any hesitation. Have no doubt over that. This is how the real world works and has worked forever. 

But then you might not understand these realities as you might not have the intellect or the intelligence to grasp the idea of how the world works. This is a common problem in the third world countries whose citizens even in 21st century think that the global powers are "gods" and thus praying to these gods and offering them sacrifices, will alter their behavior towards them (as you are doing in your comment, akin to pleading to a divine king!). Alas, I must shatter your dream here and inform you that your own impotency to care for yourself and your inadequacy to answer the needs of your society are pushing you to behave here like a "cargo cult" member. But then this is the story of all technologically backward third world countries. So please do not feel depressed as you are not alone. Half of the world's population is with you and behaves exactly like you. The other half rules them. 

mikevolze
mikevolze

@ChangeIranNow Agreed, what's to stop Tehran from using not for a rational, but a religious agenda? Things like this need to stop.

Sibir_Russia
Sibir_Russia

I agree with you.
 
France =  635 775 км²
UK = 244 017 км²
Israel = 20 770 км²
Iran = 1 648 000 km2.

Iran also is not much sense to apply nuclear weapons.

1 648 000 km2.  - Too small territory

joestecco
joestecco

@cpinfl SO naive and asinine you are.  This is a country that calls for the destruction of other countries.  I don't see any other countries taking that stand unless they are Islamic Lunatics.

TheWhitecanvas
TheWhitecanvas

@AndresCB buying time you say? so, they've been buying time for the past 30 years to build a friggin bomb? Iran the massive Industrial country, the very rich country, the country with extremely intelligent people, is still buying time to build a NUKE?!!!! Pakistan, the poor country, the not so industrial country, not so much knowladgable country, had found a way to build a nuke in less than 5 years yet Iran still buying time? When you see a country like North Korea build a nuke in such short time, you dare to say IRAN IS STILL BUYING TIME????????

give me an Effing BREAK. Fox News n CNN have been doing their job well to brainwash you sheeps who can't think for themselves. 

yeswecan
yeswecan

No one cares what you think.

Sibir_Russia
Sibir_Russia

@MrObvious 

The Supreme leader of Iran Ayatollah Khamenei  issued an edict (fatwa), the prohibition of nuclear weapons in Iran. Religious decree (fatwa) the Supreme leader of Iran concerning the prohibition of nuclear weapons is mandatory for the Iranian government.
 
This was reported on Tuesday, January 15, the Ministry of foreign Affairs Iran Ministry spokesman Ramin Мехманпараст declared that the West must understand the significance for the whole of Iran decree of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. «There is nothing higher than a fatwa, issued by the Supreme leader, it establishes the basis for our activities in the field of nuclear technologies», - the diplomat noted. «When the highest legal authority and power that carries out management of the entire country issues a fatwa, we all have the obligation to strictly observe it», - he added.

TheWhitecanvas
TheWhitecanvas

@roknsteve excuse me, but you should look at you self in the mirror mr American. you lied to the world when you went after IRaq. you supplied arms to terrorists when they served you interest, 1- Mujahedin 2-Jundallah 3-MEK 4-Al-Qaeda in Syria 5-PKK

 I could keep going ....

Hypocrites....nothing but HYPOCRITES.....

Junk.Mail
Junk.Mail

@arvay(1)  Since when is any nation subject to the UN charter?

(2)  I cannot see how a conventional attack on a nuclear "non-weapon" facility is like nuclear attack; the experts don't think your story is very plausible (http://www.jpost.com/Iranian-Threat/News/Experts-Big-radiation-risk-unlikely-in-Iran-strike).

(3) China has no interest in picking a military fight with the West; it presently has no chance there. It is doing quite well on the economic battle front; no sense ending up back in the stone age over somebody else's disagreement.

(4) Attacking a country, even unprovoked, is not a war crime; it is just war.

(5) Okay, I'll give you that the Iranian nuclear weapon program will probably go out in the open after an attack. The question is a public program so much worse than a secret one IF they are working toward the same thing.

All-in-all, I give you credit for writing in clear, complete sentences, but that doesn't make any of the content correct.

tcjstn
tcjstn

@arvayThat was well written. Straightforward and seemingly full of good advice.

 While I see this doomsday strategy a possibility, doesn't this all seem like some legal shield for people to have nukes? I mean: Iran may have the "right" to have nukes, whatever. But what if a more hardliner, leadership crazy nation decides to take the Iranian route? There are some nations who simply do not need nukes (um...N. Korea...), can we (should we?) do anything about it? 

RezaTavakolian
RezaTavakolian

@Sibir_Russia 

Dead wrong, 1 648'000 is not small territory.  For your information it  take 16 tactical nuclear weapons to neutralize an armed division.  All of the  IsraHelli NUCLEAR WEAPON CAN NOT DESTROY THE IRANIAN NATION AND IRAN CAN SURVIVE . ON THE OTHER HAND JUST TWO TACTICAL SIZE NUCLEAR WEAPONS CAN FOR EVER WIPE OUT ISRAHELL FROM THE FACE OF THE EARTH.

Sibir_Russia
Sibir_Russia

@joestecco@cpinfl 

Tehran has repeatedly assured the other countries that the military power of Iran poses no threat to them, and insists that Iran's defense doctrine is based on deterrence of foreign aggression.

 

TheWhitecanvas
TheWhitecanvas

@joestecco @cpinfl the called the destruction of other countries as a retaliation. they would be just fine if they don't attack them. Iran hasn't attacked another country for the past 3 centuries. 

rdalge
rdalge

@joestecco @cpinfl what's the use of nuclear weapons other than the destruction of other countries?

arvay
arvay

@Junk.Mail @arvay

RE: fallout from a nuclear attack

http://www.businessinsider.com/bombing-iran-could-cause-up-to-100000-radiation-exposure-casualties-2012-10

http://world.time.com/2012/09/27/how-many-civilians-would-be-killed-in-an-attack-on-irans-nuclear-sites/

RE: China.  China has many more options other than war. Ranging fro giving weapons and intelligence to Iran to economic retaliation against the US.

 "Attacking a country, even unprovoked, is not a war crime; it is just war."

No. 

"A crime against peace, in international law, refers to "planning, preparation, initiation, or waging of wars of aggression, or a war in violation of international treaties, agreements or assurances, or participation in a common plan or conspiracy for the accomplishment of any of the foregoing". This definition of crimes against peace was first incorporated into the Nuremberg Principles and later included in the United Nations Charter. "

From the UN Charter: "All Members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state, or in any other manner inconsistent with the Purposes of the United Nations."

"Okay, I'll give you that the Iranian nuclear weapon program will probably go out in the open after an attack. The question is a public program so much worse than a secret one IF they are working toward the same thing."

Iran has no nuclear weapons program, according to BOTH the CIA and the Mossad. If they are attacked, they will certainly start one. I think that's clear.


cruzerwest
cruzerwest

@Junk.Mail @arvay Your remark " all in all " could be said about your opinion as well. War with Iran would led to hell on earth. Israel must be stopped. Their ambitions are to take all the land it wants and destroy any nations potential to be a threat. Not a civilized nation by any standard. 

arvay
arvay

@tcjstn @arvay 

Thank you.

As far a the right to develop nuclear weapons -- it's like the idea of allowing elections -- what if the Americans elect someone like Hitler? probably not a good argument to prevent elections. 

 I think we either have international agreements and laws, or we don't. Right now, the US only respects the ones it likes, which means that in many areas, we basically have the law on the jungle. 

mikevolze
mikevolze

@RezaTavakolian @Sibir_Russia And one more thing, this guy, Rouhani?  Keeps begging for an open dialogue, but we all know that it's just a ploy to give them more time to develop nuclear weapons that threaten the stability of the region.  Enough is enough.

mikevolze
mikevolze

@RezaTavakolian @Sibir_Russia Glad to see you're so fired up about destruction.  You sound exactly like the new president.  Good to know that the regime can still find people willing to murder another nation because the big bad Iran feels 'threatened'