President Obama’s New Pen Pal

What Iranian leaders are contemplating as Hassan Rouhani heads to the U.N.

3A2A9CBC-2676-4025-8628-361CE500766C_w640_r1_s_cx0_cy3_cw0After vacillating for weeks on what to do regarding his red line for the use of chemical weapons in Syria and ultimately retreating, President Obama laid down yet another of his meaningless red lines for Iran. “My suspicion is that the Iranians recognize they shouldn’t draw a lesson that we haven’t struck [Syria] to think we won’t strike Iran,” Obama warned in an interview with ABC that aired last Sunday. “I think what the Iranians understand is that the nuclear issue is a far larger issue for us than the chemical weapons issue.”

There is little doubt that the Iranians have learned precisely the opposite from Obama’s back-and-forth flirtation with military action over the last several weeks. Since Secretary of State John Kerry had signaled that any attack against Syria would be “unbelievably small,” it is not difficult to imagine Iran’s leadership concluding that an attack against Iran, if any, would be small as well.

President Obama has compounded the meaninglessness of his warning by sending mixed signals. Obama decided to exchange correspondence with Iran's recently-inaugurated President Hassan Rouhani. Obama may also engage in some sort of informal contacts with Rouhani on the sidelines of next week’s annual heads-of-state circus at the UN General Assembly that both leaders are scheduled to address on the same day.

Obama reportedly sent a letter of congratulations to Rouhani on his election victory. According to one source, the letter indicated that the American government was prepared to reduce sanctions if Iran made a serious diplomatic effort.

Rouhani expressed thanks for the congratulations and gave his views on several issues, which have not been made public.

While Obama is engaging in pleasantries with his new-found pen pal, Russian President Vladimir Putin is parlaying his diplomatic coup on the handling of chemical weapons in Syria into a planned visit to Iran to help work out a strategy on its nuclear program. And just as Putin chose to lecture the United States in his New York Times op-ed article last week that it must show more respect for other countries, Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokeswoman said that the United States must adopt the “language of respect” in dealing with Iran. That should not be a problem for Obama, who still thinks his charm offensive will win over our enemies. And with Rouhani, just as with the Muslim Brotherhood and its hand-picked former Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi, Obama confuses the appearance of moderation with the real thing.

Rouhani showed his true colors once again recently with his remarks about an alleged Zionist conspiracy. "A study of the (present) conditions in Libya, Egypt, Lebanon, Palestine, Iraq and Syria shows that the West has made a chain of them and seeks to strengthen Israel and weaken the resistance front," Rouhani said in remarks to the ranking commanders of the hardline Islamic Revolution Guards Corps in Tehran on September 16th.  The aim is to "benefit Israel, to consolidate Israel and its power."

Rouhani had previously expressed his strong support for Syrian President Bashar Assad and for Iran’s state-sponsored jihadist terrorists, Hezbollah, who are fighting to keep the Assad regime in power.

Rouhani has also labeled Israel “a wound that has sat on the body of the Muslim world for years and needs to be removed,” as reported by Iran’s semi-official student news agency ISNA, although Iran’s state-run television tried to present a toned-down version of Rouhani’s original remarks.

Rouhani will most likely come across as less threatening and bombastic than his predecessor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, at the UN General Assembly next week. However, underneath the façade, there is little difference in substance. Rouhani harbors “a conspiratorial, anti-American, and anti-Israel worldview,” in accordance with the views of his close friend, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei, according to Mark Dubowitz and Tony Badran of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

Be on the lookout for an attractive-looking offer on the nuclear issue from Rouhani, perhaps during his speech to the General Assembly next week. As reported by Spiegel, he may propose decommissioning Iran’s underground Fordo enrichment plant and permitting more inspections, including the monitoring and removal of centrifuges, in return for the lifting of economic sanctions:

SPIEGEL has learned from intelligence sources that Iran's new president, Hassan Rohani, is reportedly prepared to decommission the Fordo enrichment plant and allow international inspectors to monitor the removal of the centrifuges. In return, he could demand that the United States and Europe rescind their sanctions against the Islamic Republic, lift the ban on Iranian oil exports and allow the country's central bank to do international business again.

For all we know, Putin may once again be taking leadership of a supposed diplomatic solution so that Obama can once again escape having to follow through with his declared red line while Putin emerges as the great peacemaker. However, Obama should not fall for this trick, as tempting as it may be.

Rouhani sees negotiations as merely a tactic to buy time in advancing Iran’s nuclear program. We know this from his own account of the tactics he used when he served as Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator in 2003. In an in-depth interview given to the Mehrnameh periodical in May 2012 to mark the publication of his book, National Security and Nuclear Diplomacy, Rouhani said that during Iran’s voluntary suspension of uranium enrichment, which Rouhani negotiated with the European Union in 2003, Iran’s nuclear program made major advances.

Once again, in an attempt to drive a wedge between the United States and its European allies, Rouhani is reportedly preparing to have his foreign minister offer the outlines of his latest proposed deal to Catherine Ashton, the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy for the European Union.

Agreeing to shut down the Fordo facility will mean very little if Iran’s other enrichment plants are still humming along and Iran gets to keep all of the enriched material that has been produced so far. What this shows is Iran’s confidence that it is on the threshold of having enough enriched uranium to produce a nuclear warhead. And Iran is not about to give that enriched uranium up or to scrap its plans to put a heavy water reactor into operation in 2014 and begin producing plutonium for use in building nuclear bombs.

Iran’s claim that it has already reduced its stock of 20 percent-enriched uranium from 240 kilograms to 140 kg by converting it into fuel has been called into question by analysts from the U.S.-based Institute for Science and International Security. They reported that the UN’s nuclear watchdog had as recently as August 2013 estimated that only around 30 kg of Iran's near 20 percent-enriched uranium had been converted into fuel assemblies, far short of what Ali Akbar Salehi, Rouhani’s choice to head the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, represented to be the case.

President Obama may have a new pen pal in Tehran but he better read between the lines and take nothing President Rouhani says or promises at face value.

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