Iran’s president does an about-face and takes a hard line against U.S.

Anniversary speech may be appeasing his critics at home


Share with others:


Print Email Read Later

TEHRAN, Iran — For more than a year, Iran’s Pres­i­dent Has­san Rou­hani had been walk­ing a tight­rope by try­ing to re­store re­la­tions with the coun­try’s archen­emy, the United States. His hard-line op­po­nents pelted him with eggs, but those who voted for him hoped for a pos­si­ble thaw.

Mr. Rou­hani, a Shi­ite cleric nick­named the “dip­lo­matic sheikh” in Iran be­cause of his skills in deal­ing with for­eign­ers, even held a his­toric phone call with Pres­i­dent Barack Obama, later say­ing he found him po­lite and in­tel­li­gent. Since then he has pub­licly pleaded to ex­plore open dis­cus­sions and at least some co­op­er­a­tion with the United States.

But on Satur­day,Mr. Rou­hani struck a starkly dif­fer­ent tone, mak­ing him sound more like the con­ser­va­tives who have long crit­i­cized him for be­ing too soft on the United States.

In a news con­fer­ence on the oc­ca­sion of be­ing more than a year in of­fice, Mr. Rou­hani echoed the long-stand­ing Ira­nian view­point that the United States can never be trusted.

Not only did he rule out any co­op­er­a­tion on fight­ing re­gional ter­ror­ist groups like the fiercely anti-Ira­nian Islamic State, he also hinted that Amer­ica’s ac­tions were re­spon­si­ble for cre­at­ing the group, as well as al-Qaida and the Tal­i­ban, a man­tra among the Ira­nian lead­er­ship.

He crit­i­cized the United States for not tak­ing ac­tion on the mil­i­tants when Syr­i­ans were be­ing killed, and only tak­ing steps when it felt Amer­i­cans and their in­ter­ests were threat­ened. “Now they say: ‘We want to de­fend our em­bassy and con­sul­ate in Iraq.’ This is not fight­ing ter­ror­ism,” he said. “The Amer­i­cans should be ashamed of their words.”

In the com­pli­cated world of Ira­nian pol­i­tics, it is dif­fi­cult to know if Mr. Rou­hani’s state­ments — his tough­est on the United States in a year — rep­resent a shift in his think­ing or are tai­lored to a do­mes­tic au­di­ence where hard-lin­ers have been crit­i­ciz­ing him harshly for months.

It is also pos­si­ble the speech was a tac­ti­cal move to strengthen Iran’s po­si­tion be­fore re­newed talks on its nu­clear pro­gram.

Mr. Rou­hani’s state­ments came just a day af­ter the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion im­posed new sanc­tions on Iran, black­list­ing 30 peo­ple and en­ti­ties it said are linked to the coun­try’s nu­clear pro­gram.

In a state­ment, the White House said the sanc­tions were a con­tin­u­a­tion of its strat­egy to crack down on groups sus­pected of seek­ing to avoid or vi­o­late ex­ist­ing sanc­tions, even as “the United States re­mains com­mit­ted” to strik­ing an ac­cord by late No­vem­ber that in­cludes “a long-term, com­pre­hen­sive solu­tion that pro­vides con­fi­dence that Iran’s nu­clear pro­gram is ex­clu­sively peace­ful.”

But the sanc­tions ap­peared to up­set Mr. Rou­hani.

“Yes, of course, we by­pass the sanc­tions,” Mr. Rou­hani said dur­ing his news con­fer­ence. “We be­lieve they are il­le­gal and crimes against hu­man­ity.”

He added that for re­la­tions to im­prove, the United States must make the first move.

“Our peo­ple dis­trust Amer­i­cans,” he said. “It would be bet­ter if Amer­i­cans could do some­thing that could help to build some trust in the fu­ture. Un­for­tu­nately, their moves only deepen dis­trust.”

The lat­est U.S. sanc­tions against Iran won’t di­rectly af­fect talks with world pow­ers to reach an agree­ment over the Islamic re­pub­lic’s nu­clear pro­gram, Mr. Rou­hani said.

And al­though he was one of the po­lit­i­cal stars of the U.N. Gen­eral As­sem­bly meet­ing in Sep­tem­ber, hob­nob­bing with in­ter­na­tional lead­ers who had long shunned Iran, he said Satur­day that he had not yet de­cided whether he would make the trip to the United Na­tions head­quar­ters in New York. “And I have no plans to meet with Mr. Obama,” he added.

Mr. Rou­hani’s state­ments come af­ter months in which Iran’s su­preme leader, Aya­tol­lah Ali Khame­nei, has stepped up his crit­i­cism of the United States and said he is pes­si­mis­tic that the nu­clear talks and di­rect talks with the United States will lead to any­thing.

iran - United States - North America - Middle East - Barack Obama - Nouri al-Maliki - Ali Khamenei - Iran government - Hassan Rouhani

Bloomberg News con­trib­uted.


Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

You have 2 remaining free articles this month

Try unlimited digital access

If you are an existing subscriber,
link your account for free access. Start here

You’ve reached the limit of free articles this month.

To continue unlimited reading

If you are an existing subscriber,
link your account for free access. Start here