What to Read on Iran This Week: Analysis of a Momentous Week at the UN

Mehrun Etebari
Mehrun Etebari Senior Research Assistant

September 27, 2013

Clearly, parsing everything that happened in New York at the UN General Assembly (UNGA) was at the top of the agenda for Iran observers this week. There were far too many analyses of the events of this momentous week to list here, but we’ll give you a sampling.  In the Guardian, Saeed Kamali Dehghan wrote that Rouhani’s UNGA address was carefully crafted to tread the middle ground, moving forward in a more diplomatic tone while avoiding incurring the wrath of influential hardliners at home.  In an interview with CFR, Mohsen Milani expressed optimism about upcoming nuclear talks due to the conciliatory tone of the two presidents’ UN speeches. Somini Sengupta of the New York Times wrote of the mixed reactions to Rouhani’s speech and interviews in New York, and how they are no surprise given the contradictions inherent in the man himself. Anne Gearan in the Washington Post wrote that while it was clear Rouhani was striving for a new tone, his substance was often not significantly different from that of his predecessor; the Boston Globe also argued that the situation called for the diplomatic push to be tested cautiously by the United States. 

Rouhani’s remarks didn’t play as well among the Israeli leadership, of course, and Ron Kampeas of JTA examines the Netanyahu government’s arguments against the Iranian push for diplomacy.  Rather, according to Israeli Home Front Defense Minister Gilad Erdan in the Jerusalem Post, now is a time to actually increase sanctions. (That said, there was some effort to balance the narrative in Israel, as Tamar Eilam Gindin wrote a quick overview of the diverse Iranian music scene for Haaretz that, while scratching the surface, is a great start for the uninitiated.)

Moving from the speeches to words with the potential for concrete actions, Scott Peterson of the Christian Science Monitor  reported on the historic meeting of Secretary of State John Kerry and his Iranian counterpart Mohammad Javad Zarif on the sidelines of P5+1 discussions at UNGA, with optimism for the next round of negotiations, set for Geneva in mid-October. However, Greg Thielmann and Kelsey Davenport remind us in Roll Call that progress in negotiations may be for naught if Congress torpedoes a deal by refusing to offer up sanctions relief. 

As could be expected due to the high level of scrutiny, there was more than just analysis of the remarks – there was also analysis of the analysis. In the New York Times, Thomas Erdbrink looked at the battles in the media over the interpretation of the words of President Rouhani, examining the ideology and influence of outlets like Kayhan and Fars News Agency, run by hardliners, which seek to put a conservative gloss on his statements.

This week also saw an attention-grabbing profile of Qods Force Commander Qassem Suleimani in the New Yorker by Dexter Filkins, which was well received by many (though received some Twitter critiques for lacking Iranian sources).  (And if you’re interested in Suleimani’s take on Obama’s UNGA speech, Fars News can tell you in Persian that he saw the president’s statement that America isn’t seeking regime change in Iran as an admission of failure rather than an assurance.)

And at press time, the breaking news, in case you haven’t seen it: President Obama says he spoke with President Rouhani by phone, the first direct contact between the two nations’ presidents since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.  More on that in the coming days, no doubt.

Enjoy the reads and the weekend!