What a difference from his firebrand international pariah predecessor: Iran’s new president, the moderate Hassan Rohani, has refreshed hopes that he is keen to improve relations with Western powers. The latest demonstration of diplomatic openness came as he was making his way from Tehran to New York.
Rohani said: “One of the aims of this trip for me and the delegation accompanying me is to use opportunities to introduce the real face of the Iranian nation to the world, as a nation that loves culture and peace.”
It sounds like a lesson in how to win friends and improve Iran’s image at the United Nations, an image of Iran which suffered under Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s presidency. His shock statements at the UN several times had the US and European delegates heading for the door, such as when he said the Holocaust never happened or that the 9/11 attacks were a plot by the US government.
Rohani was elected last June, a surprise success due to voters’ determination to turn away from Ahmadinejad’s ways, even though they couldn’t vote for reformist candidates, who were excluded from the poll. Rohani was and is close to Iran’s powerful Supreme Leader the Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and is a moderate compared to Ahmadinejad.
Rohani was Iran’s chief negotiator with the West. He left that job a few weeks after Ahmadinejad became president in 2005. Rohani had been negotiating since 2000 and had accepted a suspension of Tehran’s uranium enrichment activities, which Ahmadinejad relaunched.
Iranian analyst Saeed Leylaz, a reputed reformist, said President Rohani is probably ready for dialogue on that again, but within reason: “We all want a compromise with the West, especially with the United States, but I assure you that excessive demands will not be possible, and I would urge the US diplomacy apparatus to avoid those.”
Negotiations have got nowhere in the past few years, in spite of six UN Security Council resolutions, four of them backed by assorted punitive sanctions aimed at constraining Iran, suspected by the West of moving toward equipping itself with a nuclear weapon. The US and the EU reinforced those sanctions with an oil-buying embargo and a financial clampdown.