United States Institute of Peace

The Iran Primer

Rouhani Calls for Nuke-Free World

      On September 26, President Hassan Rouhani called for ridding the world of nuclear weapons in his address to a U.N. disarmament conference. “Instead of nuclear weapons, let us invest in development and in eradicating poverty, ignorance, and diseases,” he suggested. Rouhani specifically called for a nuclear-weapon-free zone in the Middle East and urged Israel to sign the Non-Proliferation Treaty.
      President Rouhani gave the speech as chairman of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), an organization of some 120 developing countries created in 1961. Rouhani announced that NAM will present a resolution to the General Assembly regarding roadmap to worldwide nuclear disarmament. Iran took over as chair from Egypt in 2012 and will lead the group until 2015. The following is a transcript of Rouhani’s speech.
            It is a special privilege to address this historic gathering. The participation of many world leaders in this first ever meeting of the Assembly on nuclear disarmament is indeed a clear manifestation of the wide support for this important subject. On behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) that initiated this meeting, I thank you all for your support. 
            I am also very grateful to you Mr. President, for your efforts and those of your predecessor in organizing this meeting. I also thank you, Mr. Secretary General, for your remarks.
            Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,
            A peaceful and secure world remains a shared ideal for us all. 
            The horrors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki deepened our resolve to prevent the recurrence of such unspeakable death and destruction. 
            To that end, the very first resolution of this Assembly rightfully called for ridding the world of nuclear weapons. We have now an architecture of treaties, norms, and forums that aims to achieve this agreed goal. Yet, thousands of these weapons continue to pose the greatest threat to peace. Steps for de-targeting, de-alerting or reducing the number of nuclear weapons are not a substitute for their total elimination. 
            Any use of nuclear weapons is a violation of the UN Charter and a crime against humanity. Doctrines justifying such use are unacceptable. Likewise, threatening non-nuclear-weapon States with nuclear weapons should be ended. Modernization of these weapons also undercuts efforts for their total abolition. These should therefore be stopped. 
            Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,
            I wish to recognize the important contribution of some non-nuclear-weapon States to nuclear disarmament by voluntarily renouncing or dismantling nuclear weapons.
            I also recognize the valuable contribution of nuclear-weapon-free zones to nuclear disarmament and international peace and security. I commend the seminal role of non-nuclear-weapon States, particularly NAM States, which make up the bulk of these zones. 
            The Movement calls upon all Nuclear-Weapon States to ratify related protocols to all treaties establishing such zones, withdraw any reservations or interpretative declarations incompatible with their object and purpose, and respect the de-nuclearization status of these zones.
            NAM urges the early signing and ratification by the Nuclear-Weapon States of the Protocol to the Treaty on Southeast Asia Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone and its related documents without reservations.

            Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,
            Almost four decades of international efforts to establish a nuclear-weapon-free zone in the Middle East have regrettably failed. Urgent practical steps towards the establishment of such a zone are necessary. Israel, the only non-party to the Non-Proliferation Treaty in this region, should join thereto without any further delay. Accordingly, all nuclear activities in the region should be subject to the IAEA comprehensive safeguards.
            The international community has to re-double its efforts in support of the establishment of this zone. This would constitute a contribution to the objective of nuclear disarmament. In this regard, I reaffirm that the NAM State Parties to the NPT urge the convening of the Conference on the establishment of a zone free of nuclear weapons and all other weapons of mass destruction in the Middle East, without any further delay, with the participation of all countries in the region to avoid unwanted consequences. 

            Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,
            The World has waited too long for nuclear disarmament. The indefinite possession of nuclear weapons cannot be tolerated nor can their complete elimination be further delayed. Nuclear-weapon States have the primary responsibility for nuclear disarmament. I strongly urge them to comply with this long overdue legal obligation.
            Fulfillment of nuclear disarmament obligations must not be delayed any further or held hostage to progress on non-proliferation or the perceived notions of strategic stability.
Nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation are mutually reinforcing. They should be pursued simultaneously, not one at the cost of the other. Non-proliferation derives its legitimacy from the larger objective of nuclear disarmament. It should be implemented in a comprehensive and non-discriminatory manner.
            As long as nuclear weapons exist, the risk of their use, threat of use and proliferation persist. The only absolute guarantee is their total elimination. Pending that day, nuclear-weapon States should refrain from any threat or use of nuclear weapons against any non-nuclear-weapon State under any circumstances. The current declarations on negative security assurances are inadequate. They must be codified into a universal legal instrument.
            Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,
            Nuclear disarmament remains our highest priority. To take forward the nuclear disarmament agenda, the Movement proposes the following roadmap:
            First, early commencement of negotiations, in the Conference on Disarmament, on a comprehensive convention on nuclear weapons for the prohibition of their possession, development, production, acquisition, testing, stockpiling, transfer, use or threat of use, and for their destruction.
            Second, designation of 26 September every year as an international day to renew our resolve to completely eliminate nuclear weapons. We invite all governments and civil society, academia, and media to join hands in making this vision a reality.
Third, convening a High-level International Conference on Nuclear Disarmament in five years to review progress in this regard.
            The Movement will present a resolution to this Assembly regarding this roadmap. I trust that it will enjoy your support.
            Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,
            No nation should possess nuclear weapons; since there are no right hands for these wrong weapons, as you, Mr. Secretary General have rightly put it.
            NAM is determined to make every effort to realize the vision of a nuclear-weapon-free world without further delay. Instead of nuclear weapons, let us invest in development and in eradicating poverty, ignorance, and diseases.
            Let us bestow upon future generations a nuclear-weapon-free world. This is their right and our responsibility. Let us prove that we are the United Nations: nations united for peace.
            I thank you Mr. President.


Rouhani’s Interviews

      New Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said that Tehran wants to cut a deal on its controversial program in the next three to six months. “The only way forward is for a timeline to be inserted into the negotiations that’s short–and wrap it up,” Rouhani told The Washington Post on September 25.
Rouhani also signaled a desire to improve relations with the United States starting with the nuclear issue. He discussed other key topics such as Syria and domestic freedoms in interviews with an American newspaper and two television networks. The following are excerpted remarks. The video below is CNN's uncut interview with Rouhani.

Nuclear Program
            “If we are on the issue of the nuclear file, we need resolution in a reasonable time. Then the road will be paved for further activities. The only way forward is for a timeline to be inserted into the negotiations that’s short–and wrap it up. That is a decision of my government, that short is necessary to settle the nuclear file. The shorter it is the more beneficial it is to everyone. If it’s 3 months that would be Iran’s choice, if it’s 6 months that’s still good. It’s a question of months not years.”
            Sept. 25, 2013 in an interview for The Washington Post
            “On the nuclear issue, the first point is that the entire world must recognize that Iran does not seek a nuclear weapon, nor shall it seek a nuclear weapon. Iran rejects weapons of mass destruction based on its belief system, its religious belief system, as well as well as its ethical standpoint. And you're well aware that the supreme leader has, in fact, issued a decree that bans the production and the stockpiling of any weapons of mass destruction, specifically the nuclear weapon, as being haram [forbidden].”
            Sept. 24, 2013 in an interview with CNN
            “Well, the nuclear issue has turned into an issue of national pride and a symbol of the perseverance of our -- the people. And I want to say that the people really have never demanded anything beyond what the law designates. Nothing be over and above what is rightfully theirs. And therefore, the nuclear issue has become a symbol of development of sorts, in Iran. “
Sept. 25, 2013 in an interview with PBS
U.S.-Iran Relations
            “From the point of view of the Islamic Republic and the Iranian people, and the point of view of my government, when we look at U.S. policies for the region, we think they have been completely wrong. But having said that, if Mr Obama and I were to get together, we would both be looking at the future, and the prospects ahead and our hopes for that future. The notes and letters and exchanges between us are in that direction, and they will continue. We need a beginning point. I think that is the nuclear issue.
            “Once the nuclear file is settled, we can turn to other issues. After resolution of the nuclear issue there are no impossibilities in term of advancing other things forward. The foundation for all this is the confidence that has to be built. That clearly will help everything else. Everything is possible after the settlement.”
            Sept. 25, 2013 in an interview with The Washington Post
            “Now, we have to remember that when it comes to the United States, for 35 years, there has been no relations between the two countries, between Iran and the United States. The - the higher officials of the two countries have never spoken with one another, especially at a level of president. You know, they have for two presidents to sit down, this has not happened for 35 years. So necessarily, we must give time for diplomacy to - to work itself, for dialogue to come about, to - for circumstances to be laid properly. The supreme leader of Iran has said that should negotiations be necessary for the national interests of the country that he, in fact, is not opposed to it. He has specifically mentioned in a recent talk that he is not optimistic regarding the issue of talks with the United States, but when it comes to specific issues that, um, government officials may speak with their American counterparts.”
            Sept. 24, 2013 in an interview with CNN
            “We believe that unilateral sanctions violate international law, in fact. They violate free trade. They violate human growth and development, human development, and that when you actually sanction a bank of a country, the meaning of it is quite clear. You're sanctioning medicine for the people. You're sanctioning medical needs and tools for the people and you're even sanctioning food supplies for the people.
            This is inhumane. This violates all principles and rules and regulations of the international legal system or international law.
            We tell them that the pressure - pressures are pressure on the people of Iran. They are inhumane in our eyes. They are incorrect and the results are to create hatred in the hearts of that nation toward those who sanction it. The more hatred there is, the conditions become ripe – less ripe for creating peace, for creating security and friendship among nations.”
Sept. 24, 2013 in an interview with CNN
Domestic Freedoms
            “One of the programs and pledges on my campaign was to insist on bringing a cultural, social and political environment in Iran and diluting the security dimensions of society at the moment. Regarding the IRGC, it’s an important institution. It helped Iran emerge victorious from the Iraq-Iran war. What the Supreme Leaders said, and I have also said, is that the IRGC should understand and analyze political affairs. But it shouldn’t get itself involved in any political groupings or activities.
            Sept. 25, 2013 in an interview for The Washington Post
            “All my efforts are geared to ensure that the people of Iran will comfortably be able to access all information globally and to use it. There are large social networks at a global level around today. And I believe that all human beings have a right, and all nations have a right to use them.
“So one of my plans is to reduce the problems that people face currently on these issues, so that within those sort of moral frameworks that we have for ourselves, that we are able to access these social network sites.
            “You know that in the election campaign that recently took place, I insisted on an issue which I called the citizenship charter. I promised the people to put together and publicize a citizenship charter which I would then present as a bill to legislate on and to allow our society to settle many of the problems that it faces right now.
            “So basically I'm very sensitive about the question of citizenship rights, of the rights of minorities, the rights of the ethnic groups. I am glad that when every prisoner leaves the jail - the prison, I rejoice in that. I hope the day will come when our prisons will be empty, but knowing - recognizing that every country will still have its prisons and will have its criminals. But the fewer, the better. Uh, people in - in prison, it is better to have fewer. And that allows our government to rejoice in it, as well.”
            Sept. 24, 2013 in an interview with CNN
            “My government has full authority based on discussions with the Supreme Leader to negotiate  any issue  that is necessary to be negotiated to preserve Iran’s security and national-security interest. That includes any necessary cooperation at the international level to help settle the Syria crisis, ending the civil war there and to insure the right of self determination of the Syrian people.  We would enter in any talks or meetings including Geneva 2 as long as there are no preconditions for Iran’s participation.
            “We know that chemical weapons have been used. We don’t know by whom or which group. That is unclear. We do know that it has been used and we are happy that Syria has agreed to join the Chemical Weapons protocol, and that is one result of agreeing to negotiate.”
            Sept. 25, 2013 in an interview for The Washington Post
            “You know that there is a conflict in Syria. There are groups that are opposed to the gov - the Syrian government. The war in Syria today is not a war between the opposition and the government. It is a war between the terrorists and the Syrian government. And this is an issue that we must try to do, meaning silence that war, the flames of war have to be put out. We need to facilitate a Syrian-Syrian dialogue between the Syrian opposition and the Syrian government that could lead eventually to an election.
            “I didn't say that all the opposition in Syria are terrorists. I said that those who are fighting the government are the terrorists. Those who are the opposition are not fighting. The opposition isn't the opposition. We are in touch with the opposition. We have contacts with the opposition. We are saying that the opposition and the Syrian government must negotiate. That negotiation must be materialized.”
            Sept. 24, 2013 in an interview with CNN
Role of the Revolutionary Guards (IRGC)
            “The IRGC also has prerogatives that are clearly defined in the constitution. The IRGC is a force. Just as its name suggests, the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps protects the revolution and protects the Islamic revolution and the country as well. And the IRGC constitutionally speaking has its own responsibilities. And the commander of the IRGC is a member of the Supreme National Security Council where the president is also a member, where the defense minister is also a member. And that explains that all the required coordination between these branches does take place in one unit. Therefore, the IRGC has no intention of intervention in political affairs, which has also been stressed and declared by the Supreme Leader, that the IRGC must understand politics, but it must not take sides, or be a member or part of any political grouping or parties.”
            Sept. 25, 2013 in an interview with PBS
The Holocaust
             “I am not a historian and when it comes to speaking of the dimensions of the Holocaust it is the historians that should reflect. But in general I can tell you that any crime that happens in history against humanity, including the crime the Nazis created towards the Jews, is reprehensible and condemnable.
            “Whatever criminality they committed against the Jews we condemn. The taking of human life is contemptible. It makes no difference if that life is Jewish life, Christian or Muslim. For us it is the same.
            “This does not mean that on the other hand you can say 'Nazis committed crimes against a group, now therefore they must usurp the land of another group and occupy it. This too is an act that should be condemned. There should be an evenhanded discussion.”
            Sept. 24, 2013 in an interview with CNN
Israeli-Palestinian Conflict
            “When it comes to the issue of Palestine, we believe in the public vote, the ballot in a sense, is that vote for the people of that region that has to happen to settle the dispute that's been lingering for 60 years there.
            “We believe that all the Muslims, Palestinians that have been displaced or are refugees must have an opportunity to come and live where they like, alongside other people there. They should refer to the ballots and see what people say.
            “And we will submit to that will and to that ballot and accept it. Therefore, what I'd like to say here is that when it comes to the settlement and resolution of regional issues, we believe that the only path is through the ballot box, through democracy. And we believe that war is not an answer for any of our problems.”
            Sept. 24, 2013 in an interview with CNN
Click here for a full transcript of Rouhani’s interview with The Washington Post.
Click here for a full transcript of Rouhani’s interview with CNN.


Breakfast with President Rouhani

Robin Wright
            I had breakfast with new Iranian President Hassan Rouhani this morning. He is personable and a striking departure from President Ahmadinejad. He entered the room with presidential flair; he wore a white turban and robes. (I had been early so I had to go through both American and Iranian security. I asked one of the young American Secret Service guys if he’d seen Rouhani—and if so, what he thought of him. He thought about it a few seconds and, with a smile, said he was impressed with Rouhani’s very neat beard. It is indeed quite smartly trimmed.) 

      Although much of the discussion was off-the-record, he made several notable comments on the record:

      On The-Handshake-that-didn’t-happen with Obama: The United States proposed the idea two days earlier and “we did were not opposed,” Rouhani said. “There are really no problems with shaking Obama’s hand or negotiating with him. But it’s more important that we have a plan of action to ensure that those negotiations lead to the conclusions that we want… We wanted to know where the negotiations might lead. The two countries have not talked for the last 35 years so if we don’t take our first steps carefully…We may not attain the mutual goals we seek.” He called the handshake “a symbolic issue.”

            Yet on his new pen pal Barack Obama, he noted that they are both committed to continuing the correspondence begun by Obama after Rouhani’s election. “We will continue exchanging letters.” So a dialogue has begun, albeit not in person. He also called for expanding relations between the Iranian and American peoples to help build confidence. He actually encouraged Americans to visit. (Needless to say, I asked him for a visa as he was walking out.)

            In a major reversal from his predecessor, Rouhani condemned the Holocaust. He called it a “massacre” against the Jews. “It can’t be denied that the Nazis carried out a massacre, a crime against the Jews.” And then he quoted the Koran, which says that the killing of any innocent is immoral – and is as if the entire human race is killed. He went on to add, however, that the victimization of one group of people does not justify the victimization of another group, a clear reference to the Palestinians.

            On the Big Issue – Iran’s controversial nuclear program – Rouhani insisted that Iran intends to be “more transparent” about its facilities. He was not specific and of course this is where Tehran really has a lot to prove! But he claimed that the issues could actually be addressed, questions about Iran’s facilities answered, and resolution achieved in the not too distant future. “Whether it’s 20 percent enrichment or 5 percent enrichment, all of those can be placed on the table and examined,” Rouhani said. “The endgame is the removal of everyone’s concerns, and the restoration of Iran’s rights” to enrich uranium.

            Needless to say, the US may think otherwise. And one of the big ironies is that both President Obama and President Rouhani would have a hard time selling any deal that the other country would buy to their own legislatures. In both countries, hardliners have a pivotal role and significant numbers in Congress/Parliament.

            But we can only hope something comes of this effort. I shudder to think about the alternatives.
Robin Wright spoke about U.S.-Iran relations immediately after the breakfast on The Diane Rehm Show. Click here to listen.

Robin Wright has traveled to Iran dozens of times since 1973. She has covered several elections, including the 2009 presidential vote. She is the author of several books on Iran, including "The Last Great Revolution: Turmoil and transformation in Iran" and "The Iran Primer: Power, Politics and US Policy." She is a joint scholar at USIP and the Woodrow Wilson Center.

World Reaction to Rouhani at UN

            Several world leaders have issued cautiously optimistic reactions to President Hassan Rouhani’s speech to the U.N. General Assembly and meetings with Iranian officials. British, French and German leaders saw Iran’s change in tone as a hopeful sign but emphasized that Tehran must follow up with concrete action. Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu called Rouhani’s address “a cynical speech that was full of hypocrisy.” The following are excerpted remarks by top leaders and officials.  

Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Hong Lei
            “Under the current circumstances, P5+1 countries [Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States] should resume dialogue with Iran as soon as possible, move forward such dialogue in a result-oriented manner, seek a win-win solution, make headway at an early date so as to create conditions for a comprehensive, long-term and proper settlement of the Iranian nuclear issue. We support all relevant parties in increasing dialogue, contact and mutual trust, which will facilitate the dialogue between P5+1 and Iran.”
            Sept. 25, 2013 at a press conference
European Union
High Representative Catherine Ashton
            “I've just had my first meeting with Foreign Minister Zarif from Iran. As you know, I've spoken to him several times over the summer but this was our first opportunity to meet face to face. We talked about a number of important issues but our focus was on the nuclear issue. We had a good and constructive discussion. Foreign Minister Zarif will join the E3+3 meeting later this week, which I will be chairing, in order to have a short discussion, and we have agreed that we, he and I, will meet with our teams in Geneva in October.
            “What I saw today was energy and determination to try and move forward in our talks. Many things flow from that, but this was the first meeting in order to establish how we will work together. We didn't talk about the details of what we will do. The purpose of this meeting was to establish how we would go forward. In terms of whether we're on the verge of a breakthrough, I would put it like this: that I was struck, as I said, by the energy and determination that the foreign minister demonstrated to me; that as you know, I have worked very hard to try and find a way in which we can address this issue of great concern; and that I will take every opportunity to try and do that, and I hope this will be one.”
            Sept. 23, 2013 in remarks to the press
President Francois Hollande
            “The statements by the new Iranian President represent the second ray of hope, because they mark a shift. I don't want to exaggerate, but the question now is whether these words might translate into actions, particularly on the nuclear front. Discussions have been stalled for 10 years, forcing the international community to adopt increasingly harsh sanctions. We all know this situation is dangerous. So France expects Iran to make concrete gestures proving that that country renounces its military nuclear programme, although it is perfectly entitled to pursue its civilian programme. That is why I have chosen to engage in a direct and candid dialogue with President Rouhani. But let me say here that as much as I am in favour of dialogue, I remain firm on the key issue of nuclear proliferation.”
            Sept. 24, 2013 in an address to the U.N. General Assembly
Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle
            “This is a good day for all those who are committed to political and diplomatic solutions, because the tone we heard from President Rohani today is a new one. It stands in great contrast to what we have seen here in previous years. To that extent, we have grounds today for cautious optimism: Iran might be serious about taking a new, constructive approach. But of course great caution is still needed, because it is crucial that new offers are made in the talks when it comes to substance.”
            Sept. 24, 2013 in remarks to the press
United Kingdom
Foreign Secretary William Hague
            “I was pleased to meet my Iranian counterpart Mohammed Javad Zarif in New York today and to congratulate him in person on his recent appointment. We discussed a number of issues, including Iran’s nuclear programme, the terrible conflict in Syria, human rights, and bilateral relations between our two countries.
            “Foreign Minister Zarif and I agreed on the need for an early resumption of E3+3 talks on the nuclear issue. We talked about the need for peace in Syria, where Iran could play a constructive role, including by supporting the Geneva framework for a negotiation between the Assad regime and the opposition and stopping its direct support for regime forces. And while welcoming recent announcements on the release of some political prisoners, I raised our concerns about human rights in Iran.
            “The United Kingdom does not seek a confrontational relationship with Iran and is open to better relations. The United Kingdom welcomes President Rouhani and Foreign Minister Zarif’s recent statements about Iran’s wish to improve its relations with the outside world. The time is now right for those statements to be matched by concrete steps by Iran to address the international community’s concerns about Iran’s intentions. If such steps are taken, I believe a more constructive relationship can be created.”
            Sept. 23, 2013 in remarks to the press
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
            “As expected, this was a cynical speech that was full of hypocrisy. Rouhani spoke of human rights even as Iranian forces are participating in the large-scale slaughter of innocent civilians in Syria. He condemned terrorism even as the Iranian regime is using terrorism in dozens of countries around the world.
            “He spoke of a nuclear program for civilian purposes even as an IAEA report determines that the program has military dimensions and when any rational person understands that Iran, one of the most oil-rich nations, is not investing capital in ballistic missiles and underground nuclear facilities in order to produce electricity.
It is no coincidence that the speech lacked both any practical proposal to stop Iran's military nuclear program and any commitment to fulfill UN Security Council decisions.
This is exactly Iran's strategy – to talk and play for time in order to advance its ability to achieve nuclear weapons. Rouhani knows this well. He bragged that a decade ago, he succeeded in misleading the West so that while Iran was holding talks, it simultaneously advanced its nuclear program. The international community must test Iran not by its words but by its actions.
            “The Israeli delegation absented itself from Rouhani's speech in order not to grant legitimacy to a regime that does not recognize the existence of the Holocaust and which publicly declares its desire to wipe the State of Israel off the map. As the Prime Minister of Israel, the state of the Jewish people, I could not allow the Israeli delegation to be part of a cynical public relations ploy by a regime that denies the Holocaust and calls for our destruction.”
            Sept. 25, 2013 in a statement

Rouhani Condemns Holocaust as Crime

           President Hassan Rouhani called the Holocaust a “reprehensible” crime against the Jewish people in a September 24 interview with CNN. “The taking of human life is contemptible. It makes no difference if that life is Jewish life, Christian or Muslim,” said Rouhani. His remarks contrasted sharply with former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s Holocaust denial. Rouhani actually brought Iran's sole Jewish lawmaker, Siamak Moreh Sedgh, with him to New York for the U.N. General Assembly opening. The following are excerpts from Rouhani’s interview with CNN’s Christiane Amanpour.


            “I am not a historian and when it comes to speaking of the dimensions of the Holocaust it is the historians that should reflect. But in general I can tell you that any crime that happens in history against humanity, including the crime the Nazis created towards the Jews, is reprehensible and condemnable.
            “Whatever criminality they committed against the Jews we condemn. The taking of human life is contemptible. It makes no difference if that life is Jewish life, Christian or Muslim. For us it is the same.
            “This does not mean that on the other hand you can say 'Nazis committed crimes against a group, now therefore they must usurp the land of another group and occupy it. This too is an act that should be condemned. There should be an evenhanded discussion.”


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