The new President of Iran, Hassan Rouhani, has been outspoken recently on the need for social reform in his country and with promises not to build nuclear weapons.
In the four months since Rouhani was elected as the 7th president of Iran he was released 11 political prisoners, sworn off nuclear weapons, temporarily lifted bans on Facebook and Twitter and expressed an interest in improving Iran’s relationship with the international community.
It is the Ayatollah Khamenei, the religious leader of Iran, who has the final say on issues of the nuclear program and defense but Khamenei seems interested in supporting Rouhani’s move. Saying:
“We don’t want nuclear weapons, not because of pressure from the US or others but because of our belief that no one should have nuclear weapons. When we say no one should have nuclear weapons that means not for them and not for us either.” – Ayatollah Khamenei
All this comes ahead of Rouhani’s attendance at the UN General Assembly in New York today. In another interesting move by the new president he is bringing the only Jewish MP in the Iranian parliament, Siamak Moreh Sedgh, with him to New York. Not only this but there may be some kind of informal “accidental” meeting between President Rouhani and President Obama which would be the first time American and Iranian presidents had been face-to-face since the revolution of 1979.
The temporary lifting of the ban on social media sites on 16 September is more significant than it might appear at first. Firstly as it suggests that the Iranian government might be considering lifting its bans altogether but also because of what that would do to change the sense of isolationism within Iran, particularly for its younger generations.
Among the optimism there are many skeptics. Israel’s government is chief among them. PM Netanyahu and those close to him in parliament have been quick and vocal in dismissing Rouhani’s efforts as a “diplomatic deception” to distract international attention while they complete their work on nuclear weapons.
Netanyahu’s office released a statement on Thursday saying: “One must not be fooled by the Iranian president’s fraudulent words. The Iranians are spinning in the media so that the centrifuges can keep on spinning.”
Iran’s parade of long range missiles capable of reaching Israel and the Gulf most likely did little to dampen these concerns. President Rouhani states that the weapons on show are for defensive purposes only claiming: “In the past 200 years, Iran has never attacked another country”.
This is unlikely to satisfy Israel. Strategic Affairs Minister Yuval Steinitz, a political ally to the prime minister, claimed: “If the Iranians continue to run, in another half a year they will have bomb capability”. But did not offer evidence to back this up.
Some commentators were reminded of Netanyahu’s memorable address to the UN last year with a cartoon bomb that was apparently meant to serve as evidence of Iran’s increasing nuclear research.
Israel might yet be right but, if they are not, what would a more open Iran mean for the dynamics of the region?
Well for one, if they cooperated with UN officials and demonstrated they were not pursuing nuclear weapons then at least some of the heavy sanctions against Iran could be lifted. These sanctions have crippled the Iranian economy and have increased anti-Western/anti-American feeling among a portion of the population. The RT reported on the situation saying that:
“Doctors are also sounding the alarm: the trade embargo has caused shortages of food and medical supplies. The director of a cancer center in Iran says he has faced lots of problems getting modern equipment to treat cancer patients.”
Also if Iran was really willing to remain nuclear free and allow UN inspectors into its research facilities then it would go a long way to disarming much of the region.
Israel’s recent statements about Iran have only drawn further attention to their own nuclear activities, particularly in the wake of a summer of worsen relations between Europe and Israel. Israel is known to possess nuclear though its security forces refuse to confirm or deny this.
Last week Israel faced an attempt to censure Israel’s refusal to acknowledge having nuclear arms and put them under international oversight at the annual conference of the U.N.’s nuclear agency, led by other countries in the region.
“Israel says an Israeli-Palestinian peace must be reached before creation of a Middle East zone free of weapons of mass destruction.” – AP
A more trusted Iran could also assist in negotiations with radical groups throughout the Muslim world, especially Hezbollah.
But a stable and cosmopolitan Iran would pose a problem for at least three countries, Israel, the US and Saudi Arabia. Israel would no longer be able to use Iran as an excuse for increased militarism and neither would the US. Not only that but Iran would no longer distract for the US ally in the region, Saudi Arabia.
While the human rights situation in the monarchy of Saudi Arabia is even worse than that in Iran, Iran has taken much of the international and media attention away from the Saudis. If this distraction was removed the media would have a greater capacity to criticise the close relationship between the US and Saudi Arabia in light of its many injustices.
But at this point it is a waiting game and we here and Global Echo will keep up to date as Iran-US-Israeli relations continue to evolve.