A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Friday, September 20, 2013

Rouhani's Charm Offensive

Hassan Rouhani, after giving interviews to the Western media and showing signs of being serious about his opening to the West, has now taken a page from Vladimir Putin's playbook by writing an op-ed for a US newspaper.

On the eve of Rouhani's visit to the UN, there seems to be a real opportunity for some sort of breakthrough, or at least softening, in US-Iranian relations. The recent freeing of political prisoners, apparent relaxation of the ban on social media, and implied criticisms of Syria all point to a genuine opening up both domestically and abroad.

It must be real, since the neocons seem to be panicking. William Kristol in The Weekly Standard is panicked enough to write a feverish comparison to the 1930s and Munich (Rouhani being Hitler of course), but looking for salvation from a preemptive Israeli attack on Iran because "the prime minister of Israel is now the leader of the West." You know there must be a real danger of peace breaking out to inspire Kristol to such rhetoric.

My own feeling is, let's give Rouhani a chance. See what he brings to the table, but be open. In the 1990s, when Mohammad Khatami made the first gestures by an Iranian President toward the West, he faced strong opposition at home, and eventually we found ourselves dealing with Ahmadinejad. Rouhani may fail as Khatami did, but we know Ayatollah Khamenei soured on Ahmadinejad, and Rouhani's victory, while a surprise, suggests he will be allowed to try a new approach. Let''s see where it leads.

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