Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Eye on Iran: Iran Applies Brakes to U.S. Mideast Plans

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"President Barack Obama argued the U.S. case before world leaders for resolving the Middle East's deepest conflicts, but pushback from Iran dimmed hopes that had been building for a rapid leap forward. Iranian President Hasan Rouhani's decision against meeting Mr. Obama-or even exchanging a handshake-at the U.N. General Assembly in New York on Tuesday soured what American and European officials had hoped would mark an advancement in efforts to wind down tensions. Mr. Rouhani followed that rebuff with an address to the U.N. in which he aired his hopes for reconciliation while holding firm on Iran's right to enrich uranium and criticizing some aspects of American foreign policy, including economic sanctions on Tehran."

NYT: "In what may have been the most widely awaited speech at the United Nations, Iran's new president, Hassan Rouhani, preached tolerance and understanding on Tuesday, decried as a form of violence the Western sanctions imposed on his country and said nuclear weapons had no place in its future... But the Iranian leader also asserted that the 'shortsighted interests of warmongering pressure groups' in the United States had resulted in an inconsistent American message on the nuclear dispute and other issues... The sanctions, he said, are 'violent, pure and simple.' ... Pro-Israel lawmakers and interest groups criticized Mr. Rouhani's speech as lacking specifics and echoing the themes Mr. Ahmadinejad had espoused. 'Those who expected a dramatic departure are disappointed,' said Gary Samore, the president of United Against Nuclear Iran, a New York-based group that has advocated for strong sanctions against the country. 'This address was surprisingly similar to what we are used to hearing from Iran, both in tone and substance.'"

LAT: "President Obama and Iran's new president, Hassan Rouhani, signaled Tuesday that they intend to pursue intense diplomacy to overcome Iran's nuclear standoff with the West, yet their speeches here underscored the gulf that threatens any deal... Yet Rouhani did not make gestures to Western sensibilities that many diplomats had expected in such a high-profile setting. He condemned the United States for imposing punishing economic sanctions on Iran, for using missile-firing drone aircraft against 'innocent people' and for threatening military action against Iran... [UANI President] Gary Samore, a former Obama advisor who now heads a group that urges tough sanctions on Tehran, said the speech was 'far more contentious than many were expecting, particularly in leading with Iran's typical bill of particulars against the United States and the West, minimized only by not referring to the U.S. and Israel by name.'"
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Nuclear Program

WSJ: "Iran's new President Hasan Rouhani pledged on Tuesday that his government will remove 'all reasonable concerns' about Tehran's nuclear program, but insisted that the West recognize Iran's right to enrich uranium. In his first major appearance on the world stage, Mr. Rouhani sought to reinforce an image as a moderate voice, saying he was ready to engage in 'time-bound and results-oriented' nuclear talks and would look to improve ties with the U.S. However diplomats said Mr. Rouhani's half-hour speech to the United Nations General Assembly offered no major breakthrough. Although he spoke just a few hours after President Barack Obama, the two didn't meet."

FP: "But not everyone was swayed by the Iranian diplomatic gambit. Gary Samore, an expert on nuclear weapons proliferation at Harvard University's Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, said that while he supports U.S. diplomatic engagement with Iran, he warns that people shouldn't get their hopes up too high. 'Nobody is fooled by the charm offense; everybody understands the supreme leader is seeking nuclear weapons,' he said. 'No matter how many times Rouhani smiles doesn't change the basic objective of the program.' Samore said that Iran has been forced into reopening nuclear negotiations in a bid to seek relief from crippling U.S., European, and U.N. sanctions. But he is skeptical that Iran will be prepared to pay the price to secure serious relief from sanctions. 'The price tag is going to be very steep; they will need to accept physical limits on their enrichment capacity and stockpiling,' he said. 'I haven't seen any indication that they are willing to sacrifice that part of the program, which has taken 10 years to build up.'"

Reuters: "The United States and Iran have set the stage for what could become their most serious contacts in a generation, but direct talks on the Iranian nuclear program are likely to be slow, difficult and fragile. Years of sporadic negotiations between Tehran and world powers have failed to yield a deal for curbs on Iran's nuclear program in return for relief from stiff international sanctions. The talks are due to resume on Thursday, attended by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif against a backdrop of rare conciliatory gestures between the United States and Iran."

Reuters: "After balking at President Barack Obama's plan to attack Syria, the U.S. Congress is also stirring in opposition to his latest foreign policy goal: an effort to improve relations with Iran. Congress imposed sanctions that are damaging the Iranian economy and, according to U.S. officials, are responsible for a moderate tone from Iran's new leadership, which will restart talks this week over its nuclear program. U.S. lawmakers have the power to lift sanctions if they think Tehran is making concessions and scaling back its nuclear ambitions, but many Republicans and some of Obama's fellow Democrats are skeptical about a charm offensive by new President Hassan Rouhani. 'We need to approach the current diplomatic initiative with eyes wide open, and we must not allow Iran to use negotiations as a tool of delay and deception,' Republican Senators John McCain, Lindsey Graham, and Kelly Ayotte said in a statement... 'Congress has no stake in giving Iran the benefit of the doubt, period. And until they see something quite dramatic on the part of the Iranians, they won't,' said Aaron David Miller, a former senior State Department official now at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington."

Reuters: "French President Francois Hollande became the first Western leader to meet new Iranian President Hassan Rouhani on Tuesday after warning that Paris expects 'concrete gestures' by Iran to show it will give up a military nuclear program. France has been a strong advocate of sanctions to pressure Iran over its nuclear program but has been cautious in its statements since Rouhani, a relative moderate, was elected. Hollande, who exchanged handshakes with Rouhani at the United Nations - the first between leaders of the two countries since 2005 - told the U.N. General Assembly that while he was encouraged by the words of the new Iranian government, he now wanted acts to follow. 'France expects of Iran concrete gestures which will show that this country renounces its military nuclear program even if it clearly has the right to pursue its civilian program,' Hollande said in an address before meeting with Rouhani."

Reuters: "Iran's new president, Hassan Rouhani, expressed hope on Tuesday that U.S. President Barack Obama would not be swayed by 'warmongering pressure groups' at home in dealing with the Iranian nuclear dispute and called for a consistent voice from Washington on the issue. Speaking to the United Nations General Assembly hours after Obama addressed the annual gathering of world leaders, Rouhani said he was prepared to engage in 'time-bound and results-oriented' nuclear talks and did not seek to increase tensions with the United States. 'I listened carefully to the statement made by President Obama today at the General Assembly,' he said. 'Commensurate with the political will of the leadership in the United States and hoping that they will refrain from following the short-sighted interest of warmongering pressure groups, we can arrive at a framework to manage our differences.'"

Reuters: "Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Wednesday that Iranian President Hassan Rouhani's U.N. address was 'cynical' and Tehran was stalling for time in order to develop nuclear arms. 'It was a cynical speech full of hypocrisy,' Netanyahu said in a statement after Rouhani addressed the annual gathering of world leaders at the United Nations General Assembly. 'It had no practical suggestion to stop Iran's military nuclear program and no commitment to fulfill U.N. Security Council decisions. That exactly is the Iranian plan, to talk and buy time in order to advance Iran's capability to obtain nuclear weapons.'"

Rasmussen: "The new president of Iran has signaled that he is looking for a less hostile relationship with the United States, although most U.S. voters still think that country is unlikely to halt its nuclear development efforts. But voters are even more opposed to U.S. military action against Iran. The latest Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey finds that just 25% of Likely U.S. Voters think it is at least somewhat likely that Iran will slow or stop its nuclear program in the next year in exchange for the lifting of international sanctions. Sixty-six percent (66%) consider this unlikely. This includes four percent (4%) who say Iran is Very Likely to slow or stop its nuclear efforts in exchange for the lifting of sanctions and 23% who think it is Not At All Likely." 

Human Rights

IHR: "According to reliable sources in Iran six prisoners were hanged in Rajai Shahr Prison of Karaj (west of Tehran) this morning... According to the reports published by Iran Human Rights (IHR) at least 54 prisoners among them 4 women and one juvenile offender have been hanged in the month of September. 39 of the executions have been reported by the official Iranian sources. Iran Human Rights strongly condemns the wave of executions in Iran and urges the international community to react."

IHR: "Four prisoners were hanged in the prison of Kerman (southeastern Iran) today Tuesday September 24, reported the state run Iranian news agencies."

Opinion & Analysis

WashPost Editorial: "Iran has steadily built its capacity to enrich uranium through a decade of negotiations and escalating sanctions. Mr. Rouhani, a longtime and fiercely loyal follower of supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has yet to offer any indication of what, if any, deviations the regime may be prepared to make from its previous refusal to limit that activity, accept more intrusive international inspections or answer U.N. inspectors' questions about suspected work on warheads and missiles. On the contrary: During his election campaign this year, Mr. Rouhani boasted that, as the regime's nuclear negotiator a decade ago, he had managed to head off sanctions even as the program moved forward. His pitch to Iranians was that a different approach to the West, eschewing the confrontational, Holocaust-denying antics of former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, might win relief from sanctions while preserving Iran's interests.  In that sense, Mr. Obama's assertion that 'President Rouhani received from the Iranian people a mandate to pursue a more moderate course' struck us as misguided. Mr. Rouhani was in New York on Tuesday not because democracy triumphed in Iran but because Iran's real leader decided to give the soft-sell strategy a try. It's possible that the regime could offer concessions, such as partial limits on enrichment or a reduction of its growing stockpile of enriched uranium; such steps, after all, were once proposed by Mr. Ahmadinejad. But a genuine renunciation of the capacity to build a weapon, and the acceptance of international controls that would enforce that commitment, looks far-fetched. A small accord with Iran - a reduction of nuclear capacity in exchange for a partial lifting of sanctions - would be preferable to unchecked development by Tehran that provokes U.S. or Israeli military action. The Obama administration has aimed at such a deal since 2009 - and has responded to Tehran's intransigence by sweetening its offers. The danger is that, in the fevered atmosphere generated by Mr. Rouhani's skillful public diplomacy, the United States and its allies will be induced into further, unwarranted concessions - or deluded into believing that a 'grand bargain' is possible with Iran. Better to swiftly demand that Mr. Rouhani make clear his bottom line - and prick the bubble he has been inflating."

WSJ Editorial: "As diplomatic humiliations go, Hassan Rouhani's refusal to accept President Obama's offer of an informal 'encounter' and historic photo-op at Tuesday's meeting of the U.N. General Assembly may not be the most consequential. But it is among the most telling. This isn't the first time an Iranian president has left his U.S. counterpart cooling his heels at Turtle Bay. In 2000, Bill Clinton sought a meeting at a U.N. luncheon with then-Iranian president Mohammed Khatami, another reputed moderate, who also declined the opportunity of an American handshake. Back then, the explanation for Mr. Khatami's refusal was that internal Iranian politics would not have allowed it. On Tuesday, a senior Obama Administration official peddled a similar line after the Rouhani snub, telling reporters that Iranians 'have an internal dynamic that they have to manage.' That's one way of putting it. Another way is that Iran's ruling clerics and Revolutionary Guard Corps remain ideologically incapable of reconciling themselves to the Great Satan. This shouldn't surprise anyone who reviews the 34-year-history of Iranian rebuffs to American diplomatic overtures, which makes the U.S. embarrassment on Tuesday all the more acute. For days before the U.N. conclave, White House aides had broadcast the President's desire to shake Mr. Rouhani's hand. By Monday, the press was overflowing with leaked accounts of where and how it would happen. Having thus turned down the lights and turned up the mood music, it made the snub that followed especially potent. What the Administration is trying to spin as a function of complex Iranian politics was, in blunt fact, an expression of lordly contempt for what Iranian leaders consider to be an overeager suitor from an unworthy nation. The contempt showed even more strongly in Mr. Rouhani's speech. That came a few hours after Mr. Obama's morning speech, in which the American promised Iran that 'we are not seeking regime change, and we respect the right of the Iranian people to access peaceful nuclear energy.' To that olive branch, Mr. Rouhani responded by denouncing international sanctions as 'violence, pure and simple,' warning against the influence of 'warmongering pressure groups' (no mystery as to who he has in mind there), and offering 'time-bound' negotiations to resolve the nuclear issue. As Israeli ambassador to the U.S. Michael Oren has pointed out, the offer that talks should be 'time-bound' makes no sense if Iran is sincere about never developing nuclear weapons. But Iran's record over three decades is that it is not sincere."

Bloomberg Editorial: "It was a shame but not all that surprising today when the awaited encounter between U.S. President Barack Obama and his Iranian counterpart Hassan Rohani didn't happen at the United Nations. It seems Obama offered to shake Rohani's hand, but the invitation was declined. The last time leaders of the two countries met was 36 years ago -- during the reign of Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi. He'd been installed in a U.S.-backed coup against a democratically elected leader, only to be overthrown in 1979 by Islamic revolutionaries who held 52 Americans hostage for 444 days. In other words, there's a lot of history here -- the kind that makes opening a new chapter of less hostile relations difficult. Over the years, what each country wants from the other hasn't much changed. The Iranians want to be treated with respect, and the Americans want Iran to behave respectably, especially when it comes to Iran's nuclear program. The Iranians say this program exists only to produce electricity and pursue medical research. They say they've no intention of building nuclear weapons and have a right to nuclear technology, including uranium enrichment. As a relatively prosperous and scientifically advanced country, they say, Iran shouldn't be forced to rely on others for part of the nuclear fuel cycle: It's a matter of national pride. Fine, so long as Iran meets its obligations under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and submits its nuclear installations to inspection by the International Atomic Energy Agency. As we've argued before, the U.S. should relieve Iranian anxieties by stating that it can live with a limited Iranian enrichment capacity. That would go a step beyond Obama's statement to the UN today that Iran has the right to civilian nuclear power. At the same time, if the Iranians want to be believed when they say their program is innocuous, they would do well to stop insisting, as Rohani has in recent days including in his own speech to the UN, that Iran has never sought nuclear weapons."

UANI Advisory Board Member Irwin Cotler in HuffPost: "In both his pre-election pronouncements and post-election promises, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has spoken encouragingly of 'moderation,' 'reform' and upholding 'the rights of the a free Iran.' Indeed, in the run-up to his speech Tuesday to the UN General Assembly, Rouhani has engaged in what this week's Economist characterized as a 'remarkable' and 'unprecedented' charm offensive, including the release of political prisoners. Yet, this charm offensive is belied by ongoing human rights violations as documented by Dr. Ahmed Shaheed, the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Iran. His report describes these violations as 'widespread, systemic and systematic,' characterization that he recently reaffirmed in his discussions with me. What follows is a human rights index -- an inventory of serious human rights abuses and the corresponding actions required -- to turn Iran from a republic of fear to what Rouhani himself called a free Iran. Indeed, the queries below serve as a litmus test for the authenticity of Rouhani's commitment to justice and human rights."

Reza Aslan & Michael Brooks in WashPost: "But if President Rouhani is truly serious about repairing Iran's image in the world and living up to his promises for greater rights, he must address the proverbial third rail in Iranian politics: the horrific human rights abuses aimed at Iran's small yet historic Baha'i community. The Baha'i faith teaches that all of the world's religions are the result of an unbroken line of divine messengers sent by God to different peoples at different times. The Baha'i believe that the prophet Baha'u'llah, who founded the faith in the 19th century, is merely the most recent in this prophetic chain and that his revelation is universal. This belief, coupled with the fact that the Baha'i began as an offshoot of Shiah Islam, has opened the faithful to horrific attacks from conservative Muslims - and Shiah, in particular - who deem the religion to be nothing more than a heretical form of Islam. Persecution of Iran's Baha'is did not begin with the Islamic Republic, of course. Due to their professional training and educational backgrounds, Baha'is were well-represented in Iran's professional classes throughout the 20th century, but they have always lacked social and political security. The Shahs of Iran regularly allowed for campaigns of public violence and abuse targeting the Baha'i faithful, either as a way of assuaging conservative parts of the Shia religious establishment or because the faith's universalist ethos contradicted the Shahs' attempts at fostering a firm sense of Iranian nationalism. However, the repression of Iran's Baha'i community reached fever pitch with the creation of the Islamic Republic in 1979. Iran's constitution recognizes the religious legitimacy of Zoroastrians, Christians, and Jews, but not the Baha'i. Although there are only an estimated 300,000 Baha'i left in Iran, they face a long list of judicial, religious, economic and social abuses. Baha'is are regularly imprisoned and even executed for practicing their faith. Baha'i owned businesses and factories are routinely closed down and taken over by government authorities as part of what human rights advocates say is an attempt to destroy the community's economic life.  Baha'i students are not allowed to attend university in Iran, and crimes against the Baha'i are rarely punished. Although some Shiite clerics have issued fatwas urging respect for the human rights of Baha'is and recognition of their faith, and the leaders of Iran's reformist Green movement have made attempts to bring the human rights of Baha'is within the broader umbrella of political and social reforms they are advocating, the situation for Iran's Baha'i community has only worsened in recent years. In fact, Iran's current supreme leader, Ayatollah Khameni, has issued a fatwa calling the Baha'i apostates from Islam. This situation cannot be allowed to continue. As Iran's present leadership attempts to make bold moves, both domestically and globally, to normalize Iran's relations with the world and reform the Islamic Republic within, the foundational rights of the Baha'i community will be the most powerful test of how genuinely committed he is to truly expanding human rights and social openness in Iran."

Jeffrey Goldberg in Bloomberg: "Iranian President Hassan Rohani -- who this week is attempting to charm the pants off the United Nations, President Barack Obama, world Jewry and Charlie Rose -- may succeed in convincing many people that the supreme leader of Iran, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, doesn't actually want to gain control of a nuclear arsenal. Why Rohani would assert this is obvious: The sanctions that the U.S. is imposing on Iran are doing real economic damage. A crippled economy threatens the interests of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, and thus the regime's stability. We know that the regime isn't popular among many segments of the Iranian population -- witness the brutal crackdown on large-scale protests in 2009 -- and that it must make at least some of its citizens happy if it is to survive in the long term. Rohani hopes to convince the world that Iran's nuclear intentions are peaceful and that his country is a rational, thoughtful player on the global stage and, therefore, please give us access once again to the international banking system. Here are some reasons to doubt the sincerity of Iran's protestations."

Eye on Iran is a periodic news summary from United Against Nuclear Iran (UANI) a program of the American Coalition Against Nuclear Iran, Inc., a tax-exempt organization under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code. Eye on Iran is not intended as a comprehensive media clips summary but rather a selection of media elements with discreet analysis in a PDA friendly format. For more information please email

United Against Nuclear Iran (UANI) is a non-partisan, broad-based coalition that is united in a commitment to prevent Iran from fulfilling its ambition to become a regional super-power possessing nuclear weapons.  UANI is an issue-based coalition in which each coalition member will have its own interests as well as the collective goal of advancing an Iran free of nuclear weapons.

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