Iran’s new moderate president, Hassan Rouhani, launched an American charm offensive ahead of his U.N. General Assembly debut next week, and while we’re not sure who told foreign leaders that Americans love lengthy newspaper op-eds that highlight our nation’s flaws, his latest effort is definitely more endearing than yesterday’s failure to admit the Holocaust happened. In a Washington Post op-ed, Rouhani declares, “We must work together to end the unhealthy rivalries and interferences that fuel violence and drive us apart.” To achieve that goal, he says Iran is ready to “help facilitate dialogue between the Syrian government and the opposition.”
Rouhani doesn’t get into the accusations that Iran has been providing military support to Bashar al-Assad’s regime, and stakes out a more neutral position on the Syrian civil war. “Syria, a jewel of civilization, has become the scene of heartbreaking violence, including chemical weapons attacks, which we strongly condemn,” he writes, phrasing the sentence so it’s unclear who he thinks carried out the attack.
While gloating was the underlying aim of Vladimir Putin’s op-ed, Rouhani is trying to extend an olive branch. Thus, there’s only a brief critique of the United States’ actions abroad. “Sadly, unilateralism often continues to overshadow constructive approaches. Security is pursued at the expense of the insecurity of others, with disastrous consequences,” he says vaguely, pointing out that American intervention in the Middle East hasn’t brought peace to the region. “More than a decade and two wars after 9/11, al-Qaeda and other militant extremists continue to wreak havoc.”
As for the primary issue of contention between Iran and the U.S., Rouhani reiterates his claim that the country isn’t trying to construct a nuclear weapon, while signaling his unwillingness to give up on an (ostensibly peaceful) nuclear program:
At their core, the vicious battles in Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria are over the nature of those countries’ identities and their consequent roles in our region and the world. The centrality of identity extends to the case of our peaceful nuclear energy program. To us, mastering the atomic fuel cycle and generating nuclear power is as much about diversifying our energy resources as it is about who Iranians are as a nation, our demand for dignity and respect and our consequent place in the world. Without comprehending the role of identity, many issues we all face will remain unresolved.
The U.S. and Iran have been openly flirting with the idea of a meeting between Rouhani and President Obama in New York next week, and the New York Times reports that Iran hopes to quickly reach a deal to curtail its nuclear enrichment program in exchange for sanctions being dropped. Rouhani closes the op-ed by saying that as he departs for the U.N. General Assembly, he urges leaders in the U.S. to “make the most of the mandate for prudent engagement that my people have given me and to respond genuinely to my government’s efforts to engage in constructive dialogue.”