ROUHANI 1
By Jennifer Lowry Contributor October 14, 2013

In comparison with his predecessors, Rouhani seems like the breakthrough the world has been waiting for. He publicly stated that the Holocaust was a crime, and even tweeted a “blessed Rosh Hashanah” message to Jews around the world. But can this so-called “charm offensive” be trusted?

After 30 years with no diplomatic relations and a covert nuclear program, strained ties between the United States and Iran have become accepted as the normal state of affairs. The possibility of a breakthrough seemed nearly quixotic. Then Hassan Rouhani was elected as the president of Iran.

Since Rouhani’s election, there has been major progress in Iran’s relations with the United States. Two months since his election, he has visited New York for the United Nations General Assembly, stated that he is ready to hold talks with the U.S., and held a historic phone call with U.S. President Barack Obama. This is the first time in several decades presidents of these two nations talked.

In comparison with his predecessors, Rouhani seems like the breakthrough the world has been waiting for. He publicly stated that the Holocaust was a crime, and even tweeted a “blessed Rosh Hashanah” message to Jews around the world. But can this so-called “charm offensive” be trusted? Is this really the breakthrough the world has been waiting for?

As with all Middle East issues, the answer is complex. There is clear progress being made on Iran’s foreign relations; however, given the long and complicated history of anti-Western traditions in Iran, Rouhani may not be able to follow through on many of the statements made. If he cooperates too much with the United States, there is a chance of another revolution in his country. Protests in Iran have already emerged due to his friendlier stance to the United States. Upon his homecoming after his conversation with President Obama, shoes were thrown at his motorcade. He can only do so much without risking the loss of credibility with his own people.

To add to the ambiguity of the “charm-offensive,” Rouhani continues to make grand statements of ending Iran’s nuclear program and finding a mutually acceptable resolution. However, when asked of specifics of how Iran will cooperate, he either avoids the question or insists, once again, that Iran has a right to develop peaceful nuclear energy under the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons Treaty. Furthermore, Rouhani made several statements that Iran has always been transparent about its nuclear program and has never chosen secrecy. This is clearly false; Iran has denied the International Atomic Energy Agency inspections for several years and has built covert enrichment facilities. The Iranian President blamed this discrepancy on his political opponents.

Rouhani has major influence in Iran, but making a deal on the country’s nuclear program will need the approval of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Khamenei steadfastly refused to allow United Nations oversight of the nuclear program, and stated that the U.S. could not stop Iran if it wished to obtain nuclear weapons. Although gaining Khamenei’s approval may be possible given Rouhani’s influence, this will prove to be a difficult feat.

While this “charm offensive” may be nothing more than words, it is still revitalizing to hear from a country that has been hostile toward America for several decades. If President Obama insists on Rouhani providing specifics of how Iran will become transparent, then perhaps a breakthrough will occur. This rare opportunity to change a longstanding dilemma is something the U.S. should take advantage of. However, the U.S. should move forward cautiously, without hastily trusting Rouhani’s charm, which has yet to be corroborated.

Jennifer Lowry is a first-year graduate student in the Global Communications program at the Elliott School of International Affairs. She is concentrating in national security policy and conflict studies, and is currently interning at the Department of State in the Conflict Stabilization Operations (CSO) Bureau.

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