I sat in the second row at the speech of Iranian president Hassan Rouhani at The World Economic Forum in Davos. Directly in front of me was Baroness Catherine Ashton, who acts as EU Foreign Minister and who was central to the recent nuclear accord in Geneva. Right next to her was Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Zarif.
It was an impressive performance by Rouhani. Never in my life have I seen a man get up in front of an educated, sophisticated audience and lie with such aplomb. Rouhani lied without flinching. He lied without a single tell. He lied and lied and then lied some more. In short, he is a black belt at lying.
In the first 10 minutes of his speech he used the word ‘moderate’ perhaps twenty times. His was a moderate government, he said. The people of Iran chose a moderate approach. He wants a moderate world.
He did not say that he heads a government that still hangs homosexuals in public, stones women to death, funds terror groups that dismembers children, and violently suppresses political dissent at home.
He had the gall to say – and this one really threw me – that he was elected in a democratic election. This was the second most astonishing lie of his speech. He did not mention that the Supreme Leader of Iran, who calls all the shots, Ayatollah Ali Khameini, along with the Mullahs, chooses and approves which candidates can even run in Iran. This year about five were approved, from a population of 80 million. Iran is a violent theocracy with a thin veneer of democracy for show.
But the biggest lie of all was his repeated condemnation of terrorism, something that he’s been tweeting about in the run-up to Davos. He said that governments that sponsor terrorism are inhumane. They will reap what they sow. Terrorism was feeding on the chaos in the Middle East and Iran wants a world free of violence and terror.
He did not say that, according to the US State Department, Iran is among the world’s foremost sponsors of global terrorism, funding killers like Hezbollah that target men, women, and children, blowing them up, shooting them, in the most public, horrific way.
Rouhani said that Syria was a humanitarian disaster and that Iran wanted to facilitate peace to end the slaughter.
He did not say that CBS News aired actual footage of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard fighting and killing on behalf of the arch-butcher Bashar al Assad who uses poison gas to slaughter children. This is aside from the untold millions of dollars that Iran is pouring into Assad’s government and army to keep the tyrant in power.
Rouhani said that Iran promotes and protects the dignity of all people, whatever their faith, whatever their religion. In doing so he overlooked the comments of his master, Ali Khameini, who said just last November, that Israel is a ‘rabid dog’ and threatened it, once again, with annihilation.
When asked by Davos Chairman, Prof. Klaus Schwab whether his pronouncements of peace to all nations included every nation – and by that Schwab was referring to Israel – Rouhani smiled his broad grin and said that it applies only to nations recognized by Iran.
More than anything else, Rouhani emphasized that Iran will not be “discriminated against” by giving up its nuclear program. He said it was for peace, even though Iran has 10% of the world’s total proven oil reserves and needs nuclear energy the way I need a pork sandwich. Forty nations have nuclear energy programs, he said. Why not Iran? Well, perhaps because those forty didn’t lie to the world for years about enriching uranium, are not ruled by religious fanatics who threaten a holocaust of the Jews on a weekly basis, do not call America ‘the great Satan,’ and do not use their cash to blow up people around the world.
It can get a little boring hearing repeated Iranian threats of extermination of Israel, what with years of Khameini and Ahmedenijad saying Israel will be crushed, destroyed, exterminated, blah blah blah, none of which has ever been repudiated by Rouhani. But it’s important not to roll one’s eyes and to take these threats seriously. As my friend the great Elie Wiesel said, in the full page ads in The New York Times and Wall Street Journal that me and Michael Steinhardt sponsored last month about the Iranian threat: “History has taught us to trust the threats of our enemies more than the promises of our friends.”
The only thing that has changed about Iran is how good it has become at PR.