Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Iran's Rouhani: Tactical Shift at the UN - Majid Rafizadeh




by Majid Rafizadeh

Based on the latest developments, all signs point to a tactical shift by Rouhani, in which his messages and tone will be quite different this year.

  • By criticizing and blaming the U.S. for not honoring the terms, Rouhani plans to exploit President Obama's weak point, as the negotiating team has been doing all along, by invoking Obama's fear that Tehran might pull out of the nuclear deal -- a move that would highlight the failure of the accord. This tactic will, as usual, successfully pressure the administration to give Tehran even more geopolitical and economic "carrots," and pursue a policy with Iran of agreeing to even more concessions.
  • Rouhani's tactical shift is intended to reinforce Iran's entrenched revolutionary ideal of anti-Americanism, appease Khamenei and the Revolutionary Guards, and ensure his second term presidency.
Iran's President Hassan Rouhani and Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif will be attending the 71st session of the UN General Assembly in New York this week.

Based on the latest developments, all signs point to a tactical shift by Rouhani, in which his messages and tone will be quite different this year.

In the previous sessions of the UN General Assembly, Rouhani and his team adopted a diplomatic tone in order to have the UN Security Council lift sanctions against Iran. He praised the success of the nuclear agreement, its contribution to peace and its prevention of more tension and potential conflagration in the region. Iran's objective was achieved: a few months later, when all four rounds of the Security Council sanctions were removed, billions of dollars and billions of cover-up stories arrived, all cost-free gifts from the U.S.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani speaks at the UN General Assembly, September 26, 2013. (Image source: president.ir)

After achieving these goals for Iran's ruling politicians, Rouhani's message this year will switch to blaming the U.S. for all sorts of injurious shortcomings in the nuclear agreement, which Iran, incidentally, still has not signed.

U.S. President Barack Obama's administration has sent hundreds of billions of dollars to Iran, and has hidden Iran's supposed non-compliance with the nuclear deal to which it never officially agreed in the first place. The deal, in fact, seems only to have existed in the overheated imaginations of the US and other gullible members of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). Nevertheless, the U.S. has ignored what Iran's violations could be, and has assisted Tehran in evading any terms of the nuclear agreement it wished.

In addition, now that Iran has seen that the U.S. had lost all political leverage to pressure Tehran through the Security Council sanctions, and that, as critics of the deal had repeatedly and urgently warned, sanctions could not be "snapped back," partly due to the veto power of Russia and China, Rouhani will be openly delivering the hardline messages of Iran's Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and the generals of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), who enjoy power over Iran's economic and political systems.

Khamenei and the senior cadre of the IRGC draw their legitimacy and power from the revolutionary principle of opposing the U.S., the "Great Satan."

After the billions of dollars from the nuclear deal were delivered, the regime's anti-American remarks and behavior only increased. For Rouhani, any expectation of rapprochement with the U.S. must be prevented, and also any domestic political liberalization prevented from occurring.

Reasons for Rouhani's tactical shift in more publicly adhering to Iran's revolutionary principle of anti-Americanism also include Iran's leaders' awareness that President Obama is tightly and desperately clutching the nuclear agreement until he leaves office: he considers the deal his crowning foreign policy accomplishment and legacy. By criticizing and blaming the U.S. for not honoring the terms, Rouhani plans to exploit President Obama's weak point, as the negotiating team has been doing all along, by invoking Obama's fear that Tehran might pull out of the nuclear deal -- a move that would highlight the failure of the accord. This tactic will, as usual, successfully pressure the administration to give Tehran even more geopolitical and economic "carrots," and pursue a policy with Iran of agreeing to even more concessions. Rouhani and Zarif will, as usual, conduct bilateral talks with American diplomats behind the closed doors to make sure they are achieved.

Rouhani's public shift to Iran's hard-line political spectrum is also partially pitched to Iran's upcoming presidential elections. He needs the firm support of the hard-line leaders -- fundamentally that of Supreme Leader Khamenei, who enjoys the final say in Iran's domestic and foreign policy, and that of the IRGC leaders -- in order to assure his election to a second term.

By more publicly delivering Khamenei's message -- that the US is not adhering to the terms of the nuclear deal and that it is supposedly the U.S. that has been "breaking oaths and not acting on their commitments and creating obstacles" --

Rouhani is most likely hoping further to endear himself to Khamenei and the IRGC and prove his loyalty.


A recent poll by the Center for International and Security Studies at the University of Maryland revealed that the moderate camp's popularity has not only decreased, but that Iran's former president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad,
"now represents the single largest threat to Rouhani's re-election, and trails the once-popular incumbent by only eight points. Suddenly, the ex-president [Ahmadinejad] seems once again to be a real political contender."
Rouhani had also promised the Iranian people that the nuclear deal would improve their economic life. Since the implementation of the nuclear deal, however, the Iranian people have (unsurprisingly) not seen the fruits of the deal and the billions of dollars that the government has received. Rouhani will undoubtedly be trying to distract people's attention from blaming the Iranian government by pointing to the U.S. as the culprit.

In one of his latest speeches, Khamenei pointed out that the U.S. is attempting to "destroy Iran's economic relationships with other countries." He added:
"Was it not supposed to be so that the unjust sanctions would be removed and it would have an effect on people's lives? After six months, is there any tangible effect on the lives of the people? If not for America violating its oaths, would the administration not be able to do many things during this time? ... Of course it has been some years that I have been repeating this about the lack of trust with America, but for some it was hard to accept this reality."
Another issue on Rouhani's agenda will be to promote, at the governmental level, business deals and trade, which will further financially benefit the IRGC and Khamenei, not Iran's private sector.

Rouhani will more likely attempt to justify Iran's military adventurism in the region by playing the anti-terrorism card, even though Iran is still the leading sponsor of terrorism.

Rouhani's government will most likely focus on spreading the narrative of Khamenei and the IRGC, that Iran is an indispensable force in fighting the Islamic State and other extremist groups; that regional and global powers need to join Iran in this battle, and that Iran is the victim of terrorism in the region. In addition, Rouhani will presumably attempt to buttress the argument that the international community needs to support the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in order to defeat terrorism.

Rouhani's tactical shift is intended to reinforce Iran's entrenched revolutionary ideal of anti-Americanism, appease Khamenei and the IRGC, and ensure his second term presidency.
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Majid Rafizadeh, political scientists and Harvard University scholar is president of the International American Council on the Middle East. He can be reached at Dr.rafizadeh@post.harvard.edu.

Source: https://www.gatestoneinstitute.org/8970/iran-rouhani-un

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