Peace With Iran? Warmonger Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL): "I Miss Ahmadinejad."
Kerry and his little cabal of imperialistic interventionists failed to force Obama into bombing Syria and failed in their attempt to make Kerry "President for Foreign Affairs." But that's not going to slow down McCain and Lindsey Graham, ironically, two of Kerry's top allies in the power struggle. Latest freakout is over Obama's diplomatic interaction with Iran's moderate new president, Mohamed Rouhani. Extremists in Iran seem, for once, less extreme than extremists in Washington.
Hawkish fundamentalists, including the elite Revolutionary Guards close to the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, have refrained from demonstrating opposition to Rouhani's new bid to pursue "constructive engagement" with the international community. This could include talks over Iran's controversial nuclear programme and the Syrian conflict. The Iranian president is keen to show the world that he has a united country behind him.Conservatives in Iran might not be, but what about conservatives here? The whole War Party-- on both sides of the aisle-- is flipping out at the prospect of nuclear détente with Iran.
Khamenei, long a fierce critic of the US, has thrown his weight behind Rouhani, apparently giving his blessing for direct talks between Rouhani and President Barack Obama, which could take place on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly this week. And Iran's opposition activists and politicians, given new heart after Rouhani's victory in June, appear to share support for the new president in his attempt to improve relations with the west.
Saturday's headlines in Tehran reflected the mood of growing optimism in Iran, where even the hardline press such as Keyhan, an ultra-conservative newspaper whose director is directly appointed by Khamenei, appears to be welcoming the possibility of a historic meeting that can put an end to Tehran and Washington's three decades of animosity. "I have no plans, but it's possible," was Keyhan's headline, quoting Rouhani on the possibility of a meeting with Obama. In a further sign that Rouhani has full authority, the Revolutionary Guard issued a statement offering support for his administration.
Mohammad Ali Abtahi, the former vice-president of Iran under the reformist president Mohammad Khatami, told the Observer that he saw Rouhani's trip as "the most important visit" to the UN by an Iranian president in "the most exceptional circumstances." "On one hand, Rouhani has the support of the supreme leader, on the other, the US has to come to terms with its mistakes in dealing with Iran in the past," he said. By mentioning mistakes, Abtahi was referring particularly to the time, under Khatami, when President George Bush labelled Iran as part of "an axis of evil" along with North Korea and Iraq, despite Khatami's reformist administration.
Rouhani's visit contrasts with those made by his predecessors, Abtahi said, because "conservatives are not sabotaging and not expressing opposing views."
Hawkish Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), the chairwoman of the House Foreign Affairs Middle East panel, called it a “terrible idea.”The NY Times editorial board wasn't biting and expressed support for Obama's and Rouhani's attempts to circumvent the right-wing extremists in both countries and strike for peace.
“Rouhani,” she told The Hill, “is the master of disguise. He knows how to do the charm offensive on the U.S. and is charming the snakes coming out of the basket with his sweet tune of reconciliation and love of the Jews. And it's working. I miss [Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad; he was so 'what you see is what you get'.”
Rep. Steve Chabot (R-Ohio), another top member of the committee, said he was “very wary of meeting with [Rouhani] at this time.” He drew parallels with Burma, which President Obama visited last year but remains plagued with ethnic strife and military repression.
“They've already consumed the carrots, and we really haven't seen any real benefit,” Chabot said. “I think there's sometimes a temptation by administrations to think that something positive is happening somewhere else in the world and to try to take credit for it. I think that's sort of what we've seen in Burma, and that may be what we see happening in Iran.”
Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Calif.), a senior Democrat on the panel, called meetings with the president of the United States “a tremendous gift that should not be given away for a wink and a promise.”
“We can't stop somebody from walking by us in a hallway,” he said. “But a sit-down meeting in New York should not be given away for free.”
And Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), a lead advocate for intervention in Syria, raised issue with Iran's continued support for Bashar Assad.
“I think there's many other ways to start negotiations,” he said. “This is a country that's sending in Revolutionary Guards and planeloads of weapons into Syria.”
Rouhani and other senior Iranians say they want to address the West’s concerns and prove that their nuclear program is for energy production, not weapons. There are compelling reasons to ease Western fears-- Iran’s economy has been hard hit by sanctions imposed by the United States and Europe. Yet if Mr. Rouhani is unwilling to offer any real compromises, and get a serious negotiating process started, the pressures for military action against Iran’s nuclear facilities from hard-liners are certain to grow in Israel and in Washington.
The next few weeks will be critical for capitalizing on a new sense of promise created by a recent flurry of remarkable gestures: Iran’s leadership has sent Rosh Hashana greetings to Jews worldwide via Twitter, released political prisoners, exchanged letters through the Swiss with President Obama, praised “flexibility” in negotiations and transferred responsibility for nuclear negotiations from conservatives in the military to the Foreign Ministry. Mr. Obama eased restraints on humanitarian and good-will activities, including athletic exchanges between the two countries.
Iran is one of two countries central to the survival of the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad, the other being Russia. Although Iran’s leaders have called for diplomacy to end the civil war, its Revolutionary Guard soldiers have trained and fought alongside pro-government militias and supplied Mr. Assad with arms. The United States has so far refused to include Iran in diplomatic efforts with Russia to forge a political solution that involves holding a peace conference in Geneva to agree on a transition in Syria’s government.
At some point, the Iranians should be brought on board of this initiative if only to determine if they are serious about moving in a direction that would advance regional stability. Iran’s intentions could also be tested by inviting its new government to join the United States and Russia in carrying out the recent agreement to dismantle Syria’s chemical weapons. It seems like a natural convergence: Iranians know well the scourge of poison gas because they were the victims of Iraq’s chemical weapons use during the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war.
Mr. Rouhani has a sophisticated, Western-savvy team. His foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, received degrees from American universities and spent most of his adult life in the United States. Together they have raised expectations in a world eager to see Iran play a more constructive role, and the charm offensive is in full swing. Policy experts, journalists and business people are jockeying to attend a number of invitation-only breakfasts, dinners and meetings scheduled by Mr. Rouhani and Mr. Zarif while they are in New York. There’s a lot riding on their visit this week.