The centrifuges keep spinning while the West keeps deluding itself.
In the Western world, the media and political leaders have created a narrative averring that Iran’s seventh president, Hassan Rouhani, will introduce a new chapter to the Islamic Republic of Iran’s history of nuclear defiance. Meanwhile, under Ahmadinejad’s rule, Tehran will continue to spin its centrifuges in attempt to obtain nuclear weapons and arsenals until Rouhani assumes presidency. While the West and other regional countries have suspended all diplomatic initiatives, talks and pressures until Rouhani comes to power, Iranian leaders have taken advantage of this opportunity to speed up their enrichment of uranium so as to sooner reach the critical point of obtaining nuclear weapons.
The “logic” that the Obama administration and other liberal leaders are utilizing to uphold the argument that diplomatic initiatives have to wait until Rouhani comes to power is that Rouhani is a centrist, moderate, realist, and rational Iranian politician who comprehends the concerns and rules of the international community, the International Atomic Energy Agency, the United Nations, and P5+1. They argue that Rouhani will comply with rules and halt Iran’s nuclear program in several cities including Bushehr, Qum, Esfahan, Arak and Natanz.
Nevertheless, these arguments do not take into account the ideological nuances, political agenda and structure of the Iranian centrists. In addition, and more fundamentally, these arguments can easily be repudiated not only by the career, personal, ideological, and political background of Hassan Rouhani, but also by the most recent statements that Rouhani has made in Persian media and the state’s outlets.
In a recent interview, Hassan Abedini, the host of one of Iran’s state media channels, IRIB, criticized Rouhani by stating that Iran’s nuclear work had been halted as a result of the negotiations that Rouhani took part in when he was chief nuclear negotiator. Rouhani then immediately interrupted Abedini by exclaiming, “What you said is a lie. You know it’s a lie. This statement is what ignorant people say; you are taught in this….Maybe the person speaking to you in your earpiece doesn’t know, but you know.” After the television host pressured Rouhani further, Rouhani said “We suspended the [nuclear] program? We completed the [nuclear] program. This is unethical act of the IRIB [channel] that has permeated into you. And the person who is talking with you into your earpiece, this unethical act has permeated into him, as well.”
In this interview, Rouhani supported the position that although the West and international community believe that Iran was halting its nuclear program, Rouhani – as the chief nuclear negotiator – was in fact completing it. In addition, at the Supreme Cultural Revolution Council, Rouhani further clarified, “While we were talking with the Europeans in Tehran, we were [simultaneously] installing equipment in parts of the [nuclear] facility in Isfahan, but we still had a long way to go to accomplish the project. In fact, by creating a tranquil environment, we were able to finish the work in Isfahan.”
Furthermore, after Rouhani was elected as the Iran’s seventh president, he publicly declared that the United States must recognize Iran’s nuclear rights and pledge not to interfere in its internal and domestic affairs. Additionally, in his press conference, the president-elect clearly stated, “The era of [enrichment] suspension is gone.”
The critical fact remains that although on one hand the Iranian centrists support using softer and more diplomatic tones on regional and international platforms, on the other hand, they also strongly insist on preserving Tehran’s current political status quo, foreign policy objectives, and continued assistance towards the survival of the Shiite cleric-ruled regime. While Rouhani is nicknamed the diplomatic sheikh and while he calls for employing less hostile language when dealing with the West, it is nevertheless unrealistic to argue that Rouhani will alter Tehran’s nuclear program and foreign policies or challenge the Supreme Leader.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, whose country would be the most affected if Iran obtained nuclear weapons, responded to Rouhani’s remarks about the era of nuclear suspension being gone. In an interview with CBS News, Netanyahu accurately characterized the political ideology of Rouhani and Iran’s centrist political spectrum by stating, "He [Rouhani] is criticizing his predecessor for being a wolf in wolf's clothing. His strategy is to be a wolf in a sheep's clothing. Smile and build a bomb." Netanyahu also stated previously, "Let us not delude ourselves. The international community must not become caught up in wishful thinking and be tempted to relax the pressure on Iran to stop its nuclear program."
Hassan Rouhani and the centrist party are the founders and beneficiaries of the theocratic political system of Iran’s Ayatollahs. It would be irrational to argue that Rouhani will stand against the current system, which he assisted in creating, and it is illogical to believe that he will risk his power and accumulated wealth by halting the centrifuges from spinning. Rouhani was the chief advisor of the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, as well as the head of Iran’s National Security Council. It is thus inevitable that Rouhani will avoid challenging the Supreme Leader so as to preserve all the benefits and powers he has accumulated.
In a very Machiavellian-like approach, the Islamic Republic of Iran will continue spinning its centrifuges under the rule of Rouhani, but in the meanwhile will use a much softer tone when interacting with the international community. This shrewdness will allow Iran to buy time, manipulate the international community, take advantage of the International Atomic Energy Agency’s loopholes, delude the rest of world and ultimately reach their nuclear and hegemonic ambitions.
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