What to Read on Iran This Week: Optimism for Diplomacy

Mehrun Etebari
Mehrun Etebari Senior Research Assistant

September 20, 2013

These are heady times for the hopes for diplomacy between the United States and Iran, and there was plenty of optimism to go around on the topic this week.  The first exhibit in Hassan Rouhani’s charm offensive is his new op-ed in today’s Washington Post calling for “constructive engagement” between Iran and the West that can benefit both sides, saying that the world is no longer a zero-sum game.  This in turn has prompted attempts to parse the op-ed, including an annotation of the op-ed by Max Fisher in the Washington Post and a post by Paul Pillar in the National Interest which muses on the messages Rouhani is trying to convey in his piece.  Add the op-ed to the interview Rouhani gave to Ann Curry of NBC News, in which he stated emphatically that Iran does not seek nuclear weapons, and we end up with a monumental week for outreach by an Iranian president.

Understandably, all this discussion of diplomacy and engagement has prompted plenty of reports and analysis.  Delving into an analysis of the letters exchanged by Rouhani and President Obama, Thomas Erdbrink and Mark Landler of the New York Times reported that Iran is seriously pushing for a swift deal on the nuclear program.  Saeed Kemali Dehghan of the Guardian pointed to the inclusion of Iran’s only Jewish MP, Siamak Moreh Sedgh, in Rouhani’s UN General Assembly (UNGA) team as further evidence of Iran’s desire to change its image. That newspaper urged in an editorial that the chance for diplomacy be seized by Western powers as did columnists David Rohde of Reuters and Gideon Rachman of the Financial Times. Bill Keller of the New York Times also urged discussion with Iran, specifically to help solve the Syrian crisis.  Similarly, Laura Secor argued in the New Yorker that Obama should start the process by meeting with Rouhani at UNGA, showing that America respects Iran’s overtures and takes them seriously.  In Foreign Policy, Patrick Clawson pointed to Ali Khamenei’s comments this week on “flexibility” and argued that it seems the push for negotiations goes beyond the president and all the way to the supreme leader. And Scott Peterson of the Christian Science Monitor wrote of Iran’s moves toward diplomacy in the context of Rouhani’s upcoming visit to UNGA, adding, for contrast, a look back at some of the most provocative moments from the UNGA speeches of Rouhani’s predecessor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Of course, another area of good news was in the field of human rights this week, as 11 Iranian political prisoners were released.  As Suzanne Maloney mentioned on this blog, among those released was the noted lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh, whose optimism for future releases was reported by Yeganeh Torbati of Reuters

Finally, getting away from politics, Iranians rejoiced as their freestyle wrestling team was crowned world champions in Hungary – but of course, given the importance of the sport in Iran, this too was the subject of discussions and congratulations by Iranian political figures including Hassan Rouhani, as seen in the state-owned Press TV.

Enjoy the weekend!