Jasmin Ramsey reports on the good vibes stemming from letters exchanged between Obama and Rouhani recently:
That both leaders have publicly acknowledged such rare contact is an important development in and of itself, according to Robert E. Hunter, who served on the National Security Council staff throughout the Jimmy Carter administration. “This is an effort as much as anything to test the waters in domestic American politics regarding direct talks, regarding the possibility of seeing whether something more productive can be done than in the past. And except out of Israel, I haven’t seen a lot of powerful protest,” Hunter told IPS.
Suzanne Maloney remains cautious about engagement:
[T]he presumption that Rouhani will drive an easier bargain may be overly optimistic. The Europeans who sat across the table from him during his time as Iran’s nuclear negotiator remember him as a tough customer. And his recent track record underscores the difficulty of expecting too much from Rouhani on the nuclear issue. The only recent progress on this issue came in 2009, with a tentative agreement to export much of Iran’s enriched uranium in exchange for Western-supplied fuel rods for its medical research reactor.
Ironically, the primary Iranian proponent of this arrangement was Ahmadinejad, whereas Rouhani played a vocal role in scuttling the deal, which he described as “illegal,” a “mistake,” and a Western attempt to deprive Iran of its uranium stockpile. These criticisms helped persuade Khamenei to back away from an initial acceptance of the agreement, sending Iran further down a path of international isolation and pressure.
Hossein Mousavian adds:
There remains a possible dealbreaker. Obama’s understanding of how to approach Tehran can be encapsulated as follows: “My view is that if you have both a credible threat of force, combined with a rigorous diplomatic effort, that, in fact, you can strike a deal”. Although the use of force and bullying is part of US foreign policy, the grand civilisation and culture of Iran has made the Iranian nation attach great importance to respect and honour, resisting any form of coercion and humiliation.
I suspect Obama, compared with other presidents, is almost uniquely capable of doing just that. What the Iranians crave is respect and honor. We should have no illusions that Rouhani is some kind of Western liberal. We should have no illusions that he, rather than Khamenei, is calling the shots. But since the regime insists it doesn’t want and hasn’t built a nuclear weapon, and since the sanctions on the country have indeed been crippling (with inflation now accelerating fast), and since the regime still has only tenuous public support, largely outside the main urban centers, it makes sense for Rouhani to explore the chances of a deal that would end Iran’s diplomatic and economic isolation in return for adherence to non-proliferation, guaranteed by international inspectors.
That’s why, although I remain deeply skeptical of the Tehran regime, this seems to me to be well worth exploring, and for a second-term president to be prepared to risk a great deal for a legacy-making agreement.