This deserves more than just a footnote in the Obama press conference open thread. Having snubbed O at the UN a few days ago, evidently Tehran decided it was time for some sugar to keep him on the hook. Expect that pattern to recur over the next six months or year or 10 years or however much longer the endless nuke kabuki plays out. A little obstinance for domestic consumption, then a little outreach to the west to keep hopes of a deal alive to buy more time for bomb-making.
In case you’re wondering what was said, Rouhani’s office tweeted the pleasantries.
@BarackObama to @HassanRouhani: I express my respect for you and ppl of #Iran. I’m convinced that relations between Iran and US.. 1/3
will greatly affect region. If we can make progress on #nuclear file, other issues such as #Syria will certainly be positively affected 2/3
I wish you a safe and pleasant journey and apologize if you’re experiencing the [horrendous] traffic in #NYC 3/3
@HassanRouhani to @BarackObama: In regards to #nuclear issue, with political #will, there is a way to rapidly solve the matter..1/3
@HassanRouhani to @BarackObama: We’re hopeful about what we will see from P5+1 and your govt in particular in coming weeks and months..2/3
@HassanRouhani to @BarackObama: I express my gratitude for your #hospitality and your phone call. Have a good day Mr President. 3/3
@BarackObama to @HassanRouhani: Thank you, Khodahafez.
Rouhani actually broke the news about the phone call minutes before O went to the podium, then hastily deleted his tweet so as not to be seen as preempting Obama. Diplomacy in the age of social media.
Three obvious points here. One: It’s easy to forget amid the hyperventilating (and whitewashing) by western media, but it doesn’t matter whether Rouhani’s a genuine “moderate” or not. He’s a tool of Khamenei; he surely has less say over the direction Iran takes internationally than, say, this guy does. His phone call with Obama isn’t interesting in its own right but rather as a tea leaf into Khamenei’s thinking. Why would he allow this? Is he genuinely softening on a deal? Why on earth would he do that after a decade of nuclear development, with a wider Sunni/Shiite war threatening to erupt in the Middle East? Having a nuke pointed at Riyadh would be very useful for Iran. Why relent on that now?
Two: Needless to say, we’re way, way past the “Assad must go” stage. We were already past it after Obama agreed to a disarmament deal that necessarily involved keeping Assad in power so that he could direct inspectors to chemical weapons depots, but the fact that O’s making nice with Assad’s patron necessarily means the U.S. won’t do anything too muscular in Syria so long as Iran keeps talking. Which, actually, works out well for Obama too: If Assad starts dragging his feet on disarming, hawks here will start demanding that Obama strike. “Can’t do it,” O will say. “We’ve got a chance at a deal with Iran now.” If the Free Syrian Army (and Iranian dissidents) needed any more proof that the U.S. isn’t going to help save the day, this is it. Why, a sham nuclear deal with Iran might be just what Obama needs to revive his presidency. Imagine the media swooning if he managed to “solve” the standoff with an agreement that kicks the can down the road for another five or 10 years.
Three: The fact that he announced this literally minutes before insisting he won’t talk to the GOP about the debt ceiling can only be the White House trying to draw a deliberate contrast. (National Journal has already picked it up.) Why they’d want to do that, I don’t know. The idea, I guess, is to signal to the public that even the nuts in Iran are more reasonable in their demands than Republicans are — at least one liberal demagogue was pushing that point today on MSNBC — but that’s a risky strategy when polling on Iran looks like this. Good luck selling Americans, roughly half of whom are Republicans, on the idea that the GOP is less reasonable than the international terrorist outfit wreaking havoc in Syria and Iraq, champ.
In other news about unfortunate alliances, John McCain has hired disgraced pro-rebel Syrian analyst Elizabeth O’Bagy. It’s time, Maverick.