Rouhani steps as far towards the West as old guard will let him

September 26, 2013
Sarah Benton

This posting has these items on President Rouhani’s speech to the UN General Assembly and how others responded.
1) Guardian: Iranian president Hassan Rouhani recognises ‘reprehensible’ Holocaust,  Saeed Kamali Dehghan stresses the import of Rouhani’s acceptance and denunciation of the Holocaust;
2) CS Monitor: Iran’s Rouhani caught between eager world at UN, worried hardliners at home, good overview;
3) Gush Shalom: Stolen Wars Uri Avnery on Israel’s distress at having two enemies whisked away;
4) JPost: Netanyahu: Rouhani’s UN speech hypocritical PR ploy;
5) youtube:Full speech of Rouhani to UN General Assembly 27 minute video, in English;

President Rouhani addressing the UN General Assembly, September 24th, 2013

Iranian president Hassan Rouhani recognises ‘reprehensible’ Holocaust

Comments in marked contrast to predecessor Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who repeatedly called the Holocaust a myth

By Saeed Kamali Dehghan, Guardian
September 25/26, 2013

The Iranian president, Hassan Rouhani, has put an end to eight years of Holocaust denial under his firebrand predecessor Mahmoud Ahmadinejad by condemning the “crime” of mass killings of Jews by the Nazis.

In an interview after his largely conciliatory speech at the UN general assembly on Tuesday, Rouhani accepted that the Holocaust had taken place and called it reprehensible.

“I’ve said before that I am not a historian, and when it comes to speaking of the dimensions of the Holocaust, it is the historians that should reflect,” Rouhani told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour.

“But, in general, I can tell you that any crime that happens in history against humanity, including the crime the Nazis created towards the Jews as well as non-Jews is reprehensible and condemnable. Whatever criminality they committed against the Jews, we condemn.”

Rouhani’s comments were in marked contrast to those made by Ahmadinejad, who grabbed headlines for making inflammatory statements about the Holocaust during his time in office.

Ahmadinejad repeatedly called the Holocaust a myth and a lie perpetrated by the west.

“They launched the myth of the Holocaust,” Ahmadinejad said in a speech at a pro-Palestinian rally in Tehran in September 2009.

“They lied, they put on a show and then they support the Jews … The pretext for establishing the Zionist regime is a lie … a lie which relies on an unreliable claim, a mythical claim, and the occupation of Palestine has nothing to do with the Holocaust.”

Meir Javedanfar, an Iranian politics lecturer at Interdisciplinary Centre (IDC) in Herzliya, Israel, interpreted Rouhani’s remarks as the limit he could go within the political and cultural constraints placed upon him.

“We could say he is disputing the numbers, which is a valid argument,” Javedanfar said. “But he is not saying that six million were not killed. He is saying whatever the numbers, which could be six million or less, was a crime.”

President Hasan Rouhani shakes hands with French President Francois Hollande , despite Hollande’s enthusiasm for a strike against Syria, during the 68th session of the United Nations General Assembly at UN headquarters Tuesday, Sept. 24, 2013.  Photo by Craig Ruttle/ AP.

Iran’s Rouhani caught between eager world at UN, worried hardliners at home

Expectations soared as Iranian President Rouhani arrived at the UN, but he passed on the opportunity for a historic handshake with President Obama.

By Scott Peterson, Christian Science Monitor
September 25, 2013

UNITED NATIONS–Is Iran still a revolutionary state, bent on “resistance” against US and Israeli “hegemons” and “militarism?” Or is it a peace-loving Islamic Republic preaching tolerance and moderation, ready to bury decades of anti-US mistrust and make a deal on its nuclear program?

Both are true, judging by Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s high-profile speech to the United Nations yesterday – his first step onto the world stage since winning June elections with the slogan “hope and prudence.”

When the centrist president finally stood at the marbled UN podium in his white turban and immaculate clerical robes, his words demonstrated the fine balance Mr. Rouhani must achieve between noisy hardliners at home, who fear he is compromising the values of Iran’s 1979 Islamic revolution, and reformists in Iran and worldwide who want and expect substantial change – now.

Expectations could not have been higher, as a well-orchestrated Iranian charm offensive arrived in New York this week. Officials promised new diplomatic flexibility and an end to the bombast that marked the previous eight years under arch-conservative Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

“People all over the world are tired of war, violence, and extremism. They hope for a change in the status quo. And this is a unique opportunity – for us all,” Rouhani told the UN chamber Tuesday.

Rouhani, a regime insider who negotiated an initial nuclear deal with European powers a decade ago, said he was “deeply optimistic” about the future, and said Iran was ready to “manage [its] differences” with the US and “remove any and all reasonable concerns” about its controversial nuclear program.

When Rouhani says, “’We can find a framework to manage our differences,’ that indicates Iran is prepared for a deal,” says one reform-leaning Iranian analyst in Tehran, who asked not to be named.

Balancing act

Despite Rouhani’s popular mandate, and current support from Iran’s highest authority, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, he is facing low-boil opposition from hardline circles that he is moving too far, too fast.

That may explain the last minute decision by Iran yesterday not to take up an American offer of a highly symbolic handshake and brief encounter between Rouhani and President Barack Obama.

And it almost certainly accounts for the first half of Rouhani’s speech, which was aimed at his conservative audience inside Iran. In strong, sometimes elliptical language, he echoed the tone and positions also taken by Mr. Ahmadinejad and Mr. Khamenei.

“Coercive economic and military policies…negates peace, security, human dignity, and exalted human ideals,” Rouhani said, referring to US-led sanctions against Iran, and US military efforts from Iraq and Afghanistan to Libya.

The “persistence of Cold War mentality and bipolar division of the world into ‘superior us’ and ‘inferior others,” Rouhani said, fanned “fear and phobia around the emergence of new actors [like Iran] on the world scene.”

He repeated a Khamenei theme of building up “imaginary threats.”

“One such imaginary threat is the so-called ‘Iranian threat,’ which has been employed as an excuse to justify a long catalogue of crimes and catastrophic practices over the past three decades,” said Rouhani, citing “the arming of Saddam Hussein with chemical weapons” and “supporting” the Taliban and Al Qaeda as examples of some of those crimes – the exact same charge the US has made before against Iran.

Nevertheless, Rouhani’s catalogue of issues between Iran and its rivals, gave way in the speech to a new outlook with “moderation” as the watchword.

“As an Iranian, I am satisfied” with the speech, the analyst in Tehran says. “He started by referring to the history of unfair behavior toward Iran…it seems idealistic but it was really necessary,” to remind his audience of the roots of decades of mutual hostility between Iran and its enemies.

No more enemies

Rouhani also hit other perennial revolutionary buttons for Iran. Without mentioning Israel by name, he said: “Apartheid as a concept can hardly describe the crimes and the institutionalized aggression against the innocent Palestinian people.”

On Syria, he blamed outside forces for “infusion of arms and intelligence…and active support of extremist groups” – without noting Iran’s similar clandestine support for the regime of President Bashar al-Assad.

On terrorism, Rouhani condemned it as a “violent scourge” and said “killing of innocent people represent the ultimate inhumanity of extremism and violence.” He made no mention of the official US view that Iran remains the chief state sponsor of terrorism.

From drone attacks on “innocent people in the name of combating terrorism” to assassinations of Iran’s nuclear scientists to US-led sanctions that have caused Iran’s economy to shrivel, Rouhani listed reasons to be wary.

But he did not use the term “enemy” or other belittling vocabulary long common in Iran’s revolutionary discourse. He later told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour in an interview that Americans “are very near and dear to the hearts of the Iranian people,” and – in a direct departure from the Holocaust-questioning Ahmadinejad – said the World War II Nazi crimes against Jews were “reprehensible and condemnable.”

“The taking of human life is contemptible,” Rouhani told CNN. “It makes no difference if that life is a Jewish life, Christian, or Muslim. For us, it is the same.”

The scaling back of angry rhetoric is a nod to the vastly improved prospects for rapprochement with the West.

In his speech to the UN just a few hours earlier, Obama spoke about “Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons” – which Iran publicly denies and US intelligence agencies conclude was halted by Iran in 2003. But he also noted that Iranians had been “poisoned in the many tens of thousands” by chemical weapons during the Iran-Iraq war.

“We’re not seeking regime change and we respect the right of the Iranian people to access peaceful nuclear energy,” said Obama. Until yesterday, the only explicit statement to Tehran that the US was not pursuing “regime change” in recent years – amid a “covert war” that has included the assassinations of nuclear scientists in Tehran, unexplained explosions, espionage, Stuxnet and other computer viruses – was embedded in a private letter sent years ago by Obama to Khamenei.

“We should be able to achieve a resolution that respects the rights of the Iranian people, while giving the world confidence that the Iranian [nuclear] program is peaceful,” Obama said. “The roadblocks may prove to be too great, but I firmly believe the diplomatic path must be tested.”

How far that path can go depends on the power of naysayers in both Tehran and Washington.

Short-lived triumph?

A taste of the pushback came in the hardline Kayhan newspaper, where writer Mohammad Imani asked readers to “imagine” what might happen if “a taboo is broken” and there is an Obama-Rouhani handshake, or even a typical Iranian greeting among men of an embrace and a kiss.

“Those who for some time have been envious of eating this forbidden fruit will be drowned in excitement for hours. Then what?” writes Mr. Imani, according to a translation by Al-Monitor. “Say that the clean hands of our president for some moments are in the bloody hands of Obama. Then what have we acquired, and what have we lost?”

Mojtaba Mousavi, an Iranian political commentator close to leadership circles, told The New York Times in Tehran, “Our leader is convinced the ultimate goal of the US is to foil our spirit of confrontation and change our behavior. The basis of our revolution is fighting the hegemonic powers.”

Still, Rouhani ended his speech saying a “bright future awaits the world,” and quoted the Quran: “And We proclaimed in the Psalms, after We had proclaimed in the Torah, that My virtuous servants will inherit the earth.”

Stolen Wars

By Uri Avnery, Gush Shalom
September 21, 2013

IF SOMEBODY steals something precious from you, say a diamond, you may be angry. Even God himself said so. When He sent a worm to kill the gourd which provided shade for the prophet Jonah in the desert, He asked him maliciously: “Doest thou well to be angry for the gourd?” (Jonah 4:9)

And now somebody has stolen from us something much more precious than a diamond or a gourd. A war. Perhaps even two wars. So we have every right to be furious.

WAR NO. 1 was to have taken place in Syria. The US was to attack the regime of Bashar al-Assad. A medical operation: short, clean, surgical. When Congress hesitated, the hounds of hell were let loose. AIPAC sent its parliamentary rottweilers to Capitol Hill to tear to pieces any senator or congressman who objected. In Israel it was said that Binyamin Netanyahu unleashed them on the express request of Barack Obama.

But the whole exercise was cockeyed right from the beginning. The Americans said that they were not aiming to overthrow the Assad regime, God forbid. On the contrary, Assad was supposed to stay on. It was not only a case of preferring the devil you know to the devil you don’t – it was clear that the second devil was much worse.

When I said that the US, Russia, Iran and Israel had a common interest in propping up Assad, I noticed a few raised eyebrows. But it was simple logic. None of these unseemly bedfellows had an interest in bringing to power in Syria a motley crew of violent Islamists, who seemed to be the only alternative if the fighting went on.
So, attack somebody you really want to stay in power? Doesn’t make much sense. Ergo, no war.

THE ISRAELI fury at a good war brazenly stolen was even stronger.

If the Americans were mixed up, we were practically schizophrenic. Assad is an Arab. A bad Arab. Worse, he is an ally of the big, bad wolf – Iran. He provides the corridor for the transfer of arms from Iran to Hezbollah in Lebanon. Verily, the centre of the Axis of Evil.

All true, but the Assads – father and son and their unholy spirit – have kept the peace on their border with Israel. Not a single bullet in decades. If he falls and his place is taken by crazy Islamists – what will happen?

So the Israeli gut says: Hit him, hit him hard. But the Israeli brain- yes there is one, somewhere – says: keep him where he is. A real dilemma. But there is another consideration, a much more serious one for Netanyahu and Co. – Iran.

IT IS one thing to be deprived of a little surgical strike. But quite another matter to be robbed of a real big operation.
A recent Israeli cartoon showed the President of Iran sitting before the television screen eating his popcorn and watching with relish how Obama is being beaten in Syria.

How can Obama pressure Iran, Israeli commentators and politicians ask, if he has given up on pressuring Syria? After he has let Assad cross the thin red line unpunished, how will he prevent the Iranians from crossing the much thicker red line he has drawn there?

Where is American deterrence? Where is the awe inspired by the mighty world power? Why would the ayatollahs abstain from building their nuclear bomb after the American president has fallen into the primitive trap laid by the Russians, as Israelis see it?

TO BE honest, I cannot restrain a touch of schadenfreude at the plight of our commentators.
When I stated categorically that there would be no American military strike against Iran, and no Israeli one either, some of my acquaintances thought that I had gone of off my rocker.

No war? After Netanyahu had promised one? After Obama has followed suit? There must be a war! But lo and behold, the war is receding into the distance.

In Israeli eyes, Iran is ruled by a crazy gang of religious fanatics, whose main aim in life is to annihilate Israel. They are hell bent on producing The Bomb, which will enable them to do so. They don’t care that the Israeli second strike is assured, and Iran will be destroyed for ever. That’s the kind of people they are. So the production of the bomb must be prevented at all costs. Including the collapse of the world economy, as a result of the closure of the Strait of Hormuz.
That is a clear picture, consistent in every detail. Fortunately for us, it has no connection with reality.
RECENT EVENTS have painted a different picture altogether.

It started with the elections in Iran. The slightly deranged Ahmadinejad, the pathological holocaust denier, has disappeared. Instead, a modest-looking moderate, Hassan Rouhani, was elected.

Such a choice would have been impossible without the approval of the Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei. He has to approve all candidates. It is obvious that Rouhani was his personal choice.

What does that mean? To Israeli commentators, it is quite clear: the sly, devious Persians are cheating the whole world again. They will continue, of course, to build their bomb. But the naïve Americans will believe their lies, precious time will be lost, and one day the Iranians will say: Now we have got the bomb! From now on, we can do what we want! Especially, destroy the Zionist Entity!

All this is built on complete fantasy. The Iranians are far removed from being a primitive, self-destructive people. They are very conscious of being the heirs of a glorious civilization, at least as ancient and as rich as the Jewish past. The idea of exchanging queens – we destroy you, you destroy us – is ridiculous, especially since chess is a Persian game. (the very word “Chess” is believed to derive from the Persian Shah, king.)

Actually, the Iranian leaders are a very cautious, thoughtful lot. They have never attacked their neighbors. The terrible, eight-year long war with Iraq was started by the reckless Saddam Hussein.

The impetus for building the bomb came when the power-drunk neo-conservatives in Washington, most of them Zionist Jews, spoke quite openly about attacking Iran next, right after the short, little war they expected in neighboring Iraq.
It seems that the Iranian leadership has decided that it is now far more important to upgrade the economy than play with the bomb. Being natural traders – bazaar is a Persian world – they may give up the bomb in return for the lifting of sanctions, and use the riches of their country for the good of their citizens, who aspire to become an advanced modern society. That’s why Khamenei and the people elected someone like Rouhani.

THIS WEEK Israeli TV screened a documentary film about the life of the Israelis in the Shah’s Iran. It was sheer paradise (“paradise” is also a Persian word). The Israelis lived off the fat of the land. They built the Shah’s dreaded secret police (the Savak, not to be confused with Shabak, its Israeli model). They befriended his generals, most of whom were trained in Israel. They built his industries and started to construct his nuclear installations. Sheer nostalgia.
Persian oil was exported to Europe through Israel, by way of a pipeline laid between Eilat and Ashkelon financed by the Shah. The American-Israeli-Iranian deal known as Irangate was concocted in the early days of the Ayatollahs (literally: signs of Allah).

Those who want to go back in history will be reminded of the fact that it was the great Persian emperor, Cyrus, who let the Jews return from Babylonian captivity to Jerusalem, as duly recorded in the Bible (the books of Ezra and Nehemiah).
The modern alliance between Israel and Iran was built on the joint enmity towards the Arabs, and could easily come to the fore again. Politics, like pornography, is a matter of geography.

THE WAR-WEARY American population seems to be inclined to accept the Iranian peace challenge. Businessmen will meet Bazaar traders, and hopefully work out a deal. No war.

At the same time, a positive development is also possible in Syria. Now that the US and Russia have discovered that they can work together in this critical area, the two sides in the civil war may get tired of massacring each other and agree to a political solution (such as the one I outlined last week).

That would make two stolen wars – stolen from those who hold on to the primitive belief that the only solution for any problem is the use of naked force.

A quite different view of life is presented by these words of Bertrand Russell, sent me by a lady in Pakistan:
“I have a very simple creed: that life and joy and beauty are better than dusty death, and I think when we listen to [music] we must all of us feel that the capacity to produce such music, and the capacity to hear such music, is a thing worth preserving and should not be thrown away in foolish squabbles. You may say it’s a simple creed, but I think everything important is very simple indeed.”

Yuval Steinitz, Likud, Minister of Intelligence, Minister of International Relations and Minister of Strategic Affairs. Photo by Hadas Parush

Netanyahu: Rouhani’s UN speech hypocritical PR ploy

Steinitz warns against repeating same mistakes made with N. Korea.

By Tovah Lazaroff, JPost
September 25, 2013

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s United Nations speech Tuesday was a public relations stunt to lull the west into believing that Tehran had softened its stance on its nuclear weapons program, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu warned overnight Tuesday.

“It was a cynical speech full of hypocrisy,” said Netanyahu in a statement he issued from Jerusalem hours after the newly elected Iranian president made his first appearance before the General Assembly in New York.

Upon Netanyahu’s orders the Israeli delegation was not in the General Assembly plenum when Rouhani spoke.

Rouhani has promised world leaders that Iran’s nuclear program was for peaceful purposed and that nuclear weapons and weapons of mass destruction had no place in his country.

The international community’s sanctions leveled against Iran has violated its inalienable human rights, Rouhani said.

Iran wants to constructively engage with other countries and to decrease tensions with the United States, Rouhani said.

He alluded to Israel’s insistence that a credible military threat was needed against Tehran, when he said he hoped the US would not “follow the short-sighted interest of warmongering pressure groups.”

After listening to US President Barack Obama’s speech earlier Tuesday, Rouhani said he believed that that a framework could be created “to manage our difference.”

But although Rouhani’s words were tamer than those of his predecessor, Netanyahu said he was not swayed.

Rouhani spoke of human rights even as Iranian forces have slaughtered innocent civilians in Syria and backed terrorism in dozens of countries, Netanyahu said.

Iran has not invested capital in ballistic missiles and underground nuclear facilities just to produce electricity, Netanyahu said.

“It is no coincidence that the speech lacked both any practical proposal to stop Iran’s military nuclear program and any commitment to fulfill UN Security Council decisions,” Netanyahu said.

He warned that Tehran’s strategy was to use negotiations with the West on its nuclear program as a fig leaf to hide its continued pursuit of nuclear weapons, Netanyahu said.

“The international community must test Iran not by its words but by its actions,” Netanyahu said.

He added that he was glad Israel had not lent legitimacy to Rouhani by sitting in the plenum as he spoke.

“As the Prime Minister of Israel, the state of the Jewish people, I could not allow the Israeli delegation to be part of a cynical public relations ploy by a regime that denies the Holocaust and calls for our destruction,” Netanyahu said.

It’s the second harsh statement he has issued against Iran in the last two days.

When Netanyahu addresses the UN General Assembly next Tuesday, he is expected to focus on Iran and warn the international community to learn from its mistakes with North Korea, which engaged in diplomacy to hide its development of nuclear weapons.

Strategic Affairs Minister Yuval Steinitz delivered this message to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon on Tuesday, when he met with him in New York.

Steinitz noted that Ban as a citizen of South Korea should understand Israel’s concern better than anyone.

“You understand better than anyone the disastrous consequences of the agreements based on gestures and illusions,” Steinitz said.

Full speech of Rouhani to UN General Assembly. 27 minutes, in English

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