While the United States and its allies test the newly elected Iranian president for any change in that country’s nuclear ambitions, the Obama administration has rejected Tehran’s calls for easing sanctions as a down payment for negotiations.
The administration is hanging tough on that one and can count on more than full backing from the Congress. Friction may come, however, if Obama decides to delay implementation of new sanctions to test the government of Hassan Rowhani, who takes office in early August.
Don’t look for any cooperation from the GOP-led House of Representatives. If anything Republicans may try to intensify the pressure, less out of any conviction that it could produce results in Iran than part of their continuing strategy of trying to portray Obama as weak on foreign policy and unreliable in his support for Israel.
Republicans can expect help from Democrats who have staked out strong anti-Iran positions and don’t want to look weak when the GOP tries to tighten the sanction screws.
All that that may actually be a good thing for Obama, who then will be able to show the Iranians the kind of pressure he faces if they continue to stonewall the negotiations. Look for the jingoists like Senators John McCain and Lindsay Graham to increase their demands for military action.
In his first post-election press conference, Rowhani expressed full support for Iran’s nuclear program and ruled out any moratorium on uranium enrichment.
Two pieces of reality: He is a strong and charter supporter of the Iran’s nuclear development program, and as president has no control over it; that belongs to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei.
Rowhani’s own record as negotiator and national security official has been to use protracted negotiations to buy time for secret nuclear development.
During his own years as the chief nuclear negotiator, Rowhani later boasted, he was “creating a calm environment” a decade ago with a temporary freeze on enrichment as a means to stall for time while Iran secretly accelerated other aspects of its nuclear program.
He said he wants to reduce tensions with the United States but stuck to the regime’s old demands that Washington must stop “interfering in Iran’s domestic politics” and “respect” its nuclear rights.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is worried that Israel’s partners in the no-nukes-for-Iran coalition might be seduced by descriptions of President-elect Hassan Rowhani as a moderate. Read more about that in my Jerusalem Post column.
He is reminding everyone that “moderate” is a relative term when it comes to describing Iranian leaders, and Rowhani, 64, is one of the Islamic revolution’s founding brothers. Rowhani couldn’t have gotten on the ballot unless he passed the Supreme Leader’s test for ideological purity and revolutionary zeal.
The Times of Israel and the Washington Free Beacon carried reports last week that Rowhani “was allegedly involved in plotting the deadly 1994 attack on a Jewish community center in Buenos Aires.” It cited a 2006 indictment filed in the case and apparently based on the testimony of an Iranian defector. The outcome of that action is unknown.
Some in Israel are wondering whether Rowhani’s election – the only relative moderate in a field of conservative clerics – was a sign of real change or just a PR ploy to create a false air of complacency to stall for time and ease the sanctions that have done so much damage to the country’s economy.
Many observers, however, say his election wasn’t a leadership plot but a popular outcry against the heavy hand of the ruling clerics.
What remains to be seen is whether the change in Iran will be style or substance.