Most observers expected that Hassan Rouhani would continue his so-called ‘charm offensive’ when he spoke at the UN yesterday. They thought that he would accept the proffered handshake from Barack Obama, and then propose negotiations that, some hoped, might lead to a halt in Iran’s nuclear program.
I admit that although I believe that negotiations with Iran would be no more than an attempt to run out the clock, I thought that Rouhani would at least continue his pretense of moderation.
Well, I was wrong. Rouhani is so confident that Barack Obama is no threat that he snubbed the US president’s hand, and in his speech took the hard line that his nuclear program is for ‘peaceful purposes’ — if you believe this, I will sell you all of the bridges to Manhattan — and indicated that while he would be prepared to negotiate, “the right to enrichment inside Iran and enjoyment of other related nuclear rights” would not be on the table.
Two days before he spoke, Rouhani reviewed a military parade in Teheran at which missile transports carrying slogans of “Death to America” and “Israel should cease to exist” were shown.
Unfortunately, Rouhani’s confidence is not misplaced.
Although President Obama says that he is “determined to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon,” his willingness to talk, along with his unwillingness — indeed, inability — to premise such talks on a credible military threat, guarantees that Iran will continue its weapons development.
Rouhani understands Obama’s weak position, both domestically and with Western allies, which was illustrated by his embarrassment over the Syrian crisis. He can afford to play to the gallery of anti-Americans and Israel-haters at the UN.
Israel has threatened to use force. But it has been neutralized by the Obama Administration, which already vetoed an Israeli attack in October of last year. Any Israeli action during the interminable negotiations that will follow would be portrayed as disruptive to the diplomatic process, making Israel an international pariah. Israel will only act if it believes a strike against it is imminent.
Unless something entirely unforeseen happens, I expect that Iran will continue to approach nuclear capability asymptotically, not actually testing weapons, but reducing the time required to deploy them to a minimum. At some point within the next year or two, Iran will be a nuclear power for all intents and purposes.
The discussion will then shift to questions about deterrence, containment, etc.