This week, with anticipation building for President Hassan Rouhani’s visit to New York for the meeting of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) and the revelation of a letter exchange between President Barack Obama and Rouhani, the Iranian press has devoted its attention to the prospects for closer diplomatic interaction with the United States. Noting the largely positive global reaction to the outreach of the Rouhani administration so far, many sources expressed support for a renewed diplomatic push by Iran. However, some hardliners expressed skepticism that anything good will come from extending a hand to Washington, and warned that Iran should be more careful in order to protect its interests.
Many suggested that Rouhani has a crucial opportunity to be heard, given the attention and hope that Western officials have afforded him. Saying that the early outreach from the new president, and its expression of a rational approach to foreign policy, has made external powers take Iran’s diplomatic efforts far more seriously, MP Mehdi Sanai argued in Mardom Salari that, “This trip gives a great opportunity to the government and enables it to, through dialogue and an explanation of the obstacles between Iran and the world, send a shared message and build the necessary conditions for cooperation.” In Iran, Mohammad Rezapour added that UNGA’s role as a forum for world leaders gives Rouhani a rare opportunity to converse with leaders of nations who would otherwise face too high a political cost for holding direct talks with Iran. Thus, he argued, it is a crucial chance to make a break with the failed approach of the prior eight years that ended with Iran under crippling sanctions. “In view of the fact that changing the previous principles and announcing new ones is a top priority for our nation’s diplomatic efforts, it is necessary that, in New York, the many angles of our new policies be enumerated, including prudence, mutual respect, decreasing tensions, and constructive relationships with the world community,” he wrote.
In the reformist Etemaad, Davoud Hermidas Bavand went further and argued explicitly that Iran accept direct talks with the United States. He said that the resounding electoral victory of Rouhani was a clear message to change Iran’s foreign policy and to seek an end to sanctions. He justified his argument by noting that Rouhani’s campaign promises were clear, and now must be followed if the will of the people is to be satisfied: “The policy announced by Dr. Rouhani was one of decreasing tensions and of constructive dialogue to solve problems and disputes, which was to be done by adopting decisions to enter negotiations.” In the reformist Bahar, Ali Bigdeli wrote that the letter-writing in itself was monumental, and could pave the way for bigger things – the act, as he put it, “could break the taboo of the establishment of bilateral relations between Iran and America.” Similarly, in Qods, former nuclear team official Seyed Hossein Mousavian, currently of Princeton, pointed to signs that Obama is trying to keep the door open for diplomacy with Iran, such as his reluctance to launch an attack on Syria. In enumerating the likely reasons for America’s exploration of an agreement with Russia on Syria, he wrote, “with a moderate president like Rouhani, an American military attack on Syria would destroy the possible golden opportunity for resolving the nuclear crisis between Iran and the United States.”
However, some remain opposed to a more open dialogue with Washington and its allies. Mohammad Imani of the hardline Kayhan summed up the arguments of the conservative opponents, suggesting Iran had been burned before by making diplomatic concessions to the West, including the 2003-05 suspension of Iranian uranium enrichment brokered by Rouhani that did nothing to solve the nuclear dispute. He argued that even when proudly revealing his letter exchange with Rouhani in an interview last weekend, Obama “rudely” and “foolishly” reiterated the threat of military force against Iran, showing that he can’t be taken seriously as a benevolent partner. “The hatemongering of the big-talking powers does not go away with just a smile and politeness,” he concluded.
APPENDIX: Translated Summaries of Selected Opinion Pieces (Newest to Oldest)
In the daily Iran, known for its support of Ahmadinejad during his presidency, Mohammad Rezapour writes that the upcoming visit of President Rouhani to New York for UNGA will give Iran a great opportunity to engage in diplomatic conversations that are too politically sensitive to be held outside of the forum. With leaders of many nations who maintain poor or no relations with Iran in attendance, discussion between such antagonistic powers and Rouhani and his team will be possible whereas, in certain nations, there would be too high a political cost to holding one-off talks with Iran at other times. Thus, he argues, Rouhani must seize the opportunity, and in particular, cultivate relationships with European nations at the event. He also writes that this is an opportunity for Rouhani to emphasize that Iran has new diplomatic principles, different from those that led to isolation and sanctions: “In view of the fact that changing the previous principles and announcing new ones is a top priority for our nation’s diplomatic efforts, it is necessary that, in New York, the many angles of our new policies be enumerated, including prudence, mutual respect, decreasing tensions, and constructive relationships with the world community.”
In the reformist Etemaad, Bavand writes that it is necessary for Iran to take up the United States on the offer of direct talks, primarily because it is in Iran’s interest to find a constructive way to reach an arrangement with the P5+1 that will result in the removal of sanctions. He argues that the election of Rouhani was a clear sign from the Iranian people that change in foreign policy, and the possible economic relief that could come from it, is a top priority, and the popular will should be respected. “The policy announced by Dr. Rouhani is one of decreasing tensions and of constructive dialogue to solve problems and disputes, which was to be done by adopting decisions to enter negotiations,” he writes. He adds, “Therefore, it is the expectation of the international community, and also of the Iranian people, that Iran, to advance its interests and resolve its problems, enter constructive negotiations.”
In the hardline Kayhan, Imani makes the case of the arch-conservatives, that diplomacy with the West is unlikely to achieve its objectives due to the desire of Washington and its allies to take advantage of the negotiation process to try to weaken Iran. He also suggests Barack Obama is not the constructive partner some make him out to be, noting that, even in the same interview in which he announced the exchange of letters with Iran, the president mentioned that Iran should not view the retreat from plans to attack Syria as a sign that the United States will not attack Iran if it deems it necessary – a move Imani characterizes as both foolish and rude. Mentioning all the reports of potential meetings between Rouhani’s team and high-ranking Western officials in New York, Imani characterizes such outreach from the West as part of a diplomatic game which does not change the policies of Iran’s enemies. “The hate-mongering of the big-talking powers does not go away with just a smile and politeness,” he argues.
Majlis MP Sanai argues in the moderate daily Mardom Salari that Iran has raised the expectations of itself through the constructive messages being sent to the outside world by the Rouhani administration, and that it must back up this talk through constructive remarks and dialogue during the UNGA meetings. He writes that, “in view of the actions of the 11th government [Rouhani’s presidency], foreigners will take the government of the Islamic Republic of Iran more seriously than ever,” and thus the meeting will be a crucial chance for Iran to convey its policies, needs, and grievances to the world community. “This trip gives a great opportunity to the government and enables it to, through dialogue and an explanation of the obstacles between Iran and the world, send a shared message and build the necessary conditions for cooperation.”
[T]here is a wider consensus about the undesirability of Iran’s missile activities than there is about how to respond.