Obama’s UN speech at the General Assembly is unlikely to go down well with Iran’s hardliners, for three reasons.
First and foremost was Obama’s statement that that U.S. is “not seeking regime change.”
This statement will delegitimize the claim by hardliners inside Iran that the U.S wants to repeat the events of 1953 in Iran by toppling the current regime.
This is indeed bad news for them. For years Iranian hardliners tried to justify the regime’s uncompromising stance in the nuclear talks by stating that the U.S is not really interested in reaching an agreement over the nuclear program, because its ultimate goal is regime change in Iran. So best to play tough at the talks, because if Iran shows leniency there, the U.S will be encouraged to go for regime change after that.
Obama then went on to say:
We respect the right of the Iranian people to access peaceful nuclear energy.
Such a declaration is more bad news as, for years, hardliners in Iran have stated that America does not recognize Iran’s right to peaceful energy and this is why sanctions are imposed against Iran. This has been used to deflect western claims that Iran’s nuclear program may have had military dimensions, as alleged in at least one IAEA report. Iran still refuses to answer the IAEA’s questions regarding such allegations.
Last but not least was this statement by Obama:
The ban against the use of chemical weapons, even in war, has been agreed to by 98 percent of humanity. It is strengthened by the searing memories of soldiers suffocated in the trenches, Jews slaughtered in gas chambers, Iranians poisoned in the many tens of thousands.
By recognizing that Iranians as well as Jews have been gassed in the past, Obama has made it more costly for Rouhani to sidestep the question of the Holocaust, as he has done so recently. (I explained the internal reasons behind this in my latest article for Al Monitor).
Should Rouhani sidestep this issue again because of pressure from Khamenei, it will become more difficult for Iran to improve its image abroad. With this move, Obama has increased pressure on supreme leader Khamenei to change the official regime narrative on the question of the Holocaust.
A good speech by Obama. He is playing chess with Khamenei and winning. Rouhani should be pleased, because Iran’s supreme leader is a major factor in the distance between Iran and the West.