Iran's New Leader and the Limits of Diplomacy

(Times of Israel) Gerald M. Steinberg - For Iran's new president, Hassan Rouhani, diplomacy is simply warfare by other means. As Iran's top nuclear negotiator, Rouhani successfully shepherded Iran's illicit nuclear weapons program through its greatest crisis in 2003-2004. Through diplomatic engagement with the international community, he deflected the use of force and sanctions while bolstering Iran's regional status. After President Bush had overthrown Saddam Hussein in neighboring Iraq, citing the nuclear ambitions of this regime, throughout 2003 the Iranians greatly feared the possibility of an American military strike. Rouhani's job was to prevent this. Through carefully packaged diplomatic feints, he kept his country off of the Security Council's agenda and away from America's target list. With Washington busy attempting to create democracy in Iraq, the European Union claimed Iran as its chance to play a leading international role. Rouhani played along with the Europeans, encouraging the facade of progress through agreements that were never implemented. While hiding and slowing the visible production of weapons grade material, this slowdown was a temporary, tactical move. As soon as the immediate threat had passed, Iran made up the lost ground, and far more. Throughout this period, Rouhani navigated to maximize gains while minimizing the price Iran paid for keeping its nuclear ambitions alive. The agreements that he negotiated, declared by European interlocutors as major diplomatic triumphs, were disposable political band-aids without substance. Iran's commitments evaporated as soon as the immediate need had passed. The writer is professor of political science at Bar-Ilan University and president of NGO Monitor.

2013-08-05 00:00:00

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