With the White House pursuing rapprochement with Iran through personal diplomacy, Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu has pressed Barack Obama not to let Hassan Rouhani fool America … again, as it turns out. The Times of Israel plays this interview with Rouhani on Iranian television less than two weeks before finally taking Obamas’ phone call, in which the Iranian president brags about how he fooled the West until their nuclear program got exposed in 2003 — and even afterward (via Scott Johnson at Power Line):
In a video clip now gaining fresh attention as the international community seeks to assess his credibility, Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani bragged on Iranian state television just four months ago that he and the regime utterly flouted a 2003 agreement with the IAEA in which it promised to suspend all uranium enrichment and certain other nuclear activities.
Rouhani, who was being interviewed by Iran’s state IRIB TV (Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting) on May 27, less than three weeks before he won the June 14 presidential elections, was provoked by the interviewer’s assertion that, as Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator in 2003-5, “everything was suspended” on the nuclear program under his watch.
Smiling but evidently highly irritated by the suggestion, Rouhani called it “a lie” that only “the illiterate” would believe, and said that “whoever is talking to you in your earpiece” was feeding false information. He proceeded to detail how Iran, in fact, had flagrantly breached the October 2003 “Tehran Declaration,” which he said “was supposed to outline how everything should be suspended.”
Although Iran issued a joint statement with visiting EU ministers in October 2003 setting out its pledged obligations under the Tehran Declaration, in practice, Rouhani said in the interview, “We did not let that happen!”
Jeffrey Goldberg also took a look at the video, and warns the White House that they had better pay attention to what leaders tell their own people:
n the mid-1990s, Yasser Arafat, who was then the leader of the Palestinian Authority, began giving speeches (and sermons) about the Middle East peace process, which was then progressing in earnest. There were doubts about Arafat’s willingness to compromise with Israel, a nation he had long terrorized, but he appeared to be fully engaged in negotiations, and Israel’s suspicious leaders appeared to have overcome many of their misgivings.
In these sermons and discussions, however, Arafat began making reference to the Treaty of Hudaybiyyah, which, Muslim tradition tells us, the Prophet Muhammad had signed with a rival tribe called the Quraysh out of tactical necessity. Two years later, by most accounts, a stronger Muhammad, citing a violation by the Quraysh as pretext, saw to it that the treaty was dissolved. He then defeated his enemy. Arafat appeared to be signaling to Muslim audiences that even if the Palestinians came to an agreement, they shouldn’t fear, because an agreement with Israel wouldn’t last forever.
Optimists — including me — dismissed Arafat’s invocation of the treaty as an example of a frightened politician playing to his base. The pessimists — those who said this reference, among others, proved that Arafat was already devising an exit strategy from a still-theoretical (and ultimately unrealized) peace treaty — were right.
The lesson of this sad episode was to listen more carefully to what leaders actually say.
Rouhani, in the interview, was in the midst of a presidential campaign and getting pressured from his right. So it’s possible that he reacted defensively in the heat of the moment. But consider this statement, which he wrote in 2011: “While we were talking to the Europeans in Tehran, we were installing equipment in Isfahan.”
These are not the words of someone who wants to end Iran’s nuclear program. Taken together, Rouhani’s statements sound like those of a man who is proud of the program and believes he may have devised a way to carry it to completion: By speaking softly, smiling and spinning the centrifuges all the while.
The past in this case is not just prologue, but a framework for understanding the present. Rouhani scoffed at the notion that Iran would comply with a treaty to which it was a signatory in 2003. What makes 2013 any different, especially with Rouhani indignantly proclaiming his defiance for domestic consumption?