United States Institute of Peace

The Iran Primer

US Reaction to Rouhani at UN: Part 1

             Senior U.S. officials have welcomed signals indicating a conciliatory shift in Iran’s foreign policy. “What’s different about President [Hassan] Rouhani is not simply some matter of personality,” a senior administration official said in response to a question about Rouhani’s address to the United Nations. The difference is that Rouhani was “elected expressly on a mandate to pursue a more moderate foreign policy and to achieve a nuclear deal,” the official told the press on September 24.
            The Obama administration proposed an informal meeting of the U.S. president and his Iranian counterpart on the U.N. General Assembly  sidelines. But President Rouhani told CNN that the two sides “didn’t have sufficient time really coordinate the meeting.” Meeting with U.S. officials is a “very sensitive subject,” Rouhani told a group of American editors and columnists from top news organizations. “We have not talked at that level for 35 years. We must take these steps carefully,” he said on September 25.
            The Obama administration is trying to demonstrate openness “to any type of negotiation,” said a U.S. official in one of two briefings on Iran and the U.N. General Assembly. In a separate statement, a senior State Department official expressed hope that Iran can “chart a path forward” with the world’s six major powers — the United States, Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia. “We are looking forward to having the political directors meet - on a date to be scheduled in October,” said the official. The following are excerpts from White House and State Department press releases.

Senior State Department Official
Sept. 24, 2013 
            President Obama and Secretary Kerry have long supported an effort to engage the Iranians through direct negotiations, including bilateral discussion in coordination with the P5+1 process, and they believe it is worth testing the potential for a new opening with new leadership in Iran. The President has asked Secretary Kerry to help play a leading role as we determine path forward.
            But actions speak louder than words, and the steps taken by the Iranians in the weeks ahead to show they are serious will determine how successful these efforts will be and how long they will take.
            While we do not anticipate that any issues will be resolved later this week during the P5+1 meeting that EU High Representative Ashton has organized, we are hopeful that we can continue to chart a path forward.  We  have had a number of communications with Iran over time and we are looking forward to having the political directors meet - on a date to be scheduled in October - for substantive discussions.
Senior Obama Administration Officials
Sept. 24, 2013 at 5:21 P.M.
           SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  Well, first, let me step back and -- we believe that the new Iranian government under President Rouhani does present an opportunity to make progress on a diplomatic negotiation; that they’ve indicated a seriousness that we had not seen under the previous government.  And it’s precisely because of that that Secretary Kerry is going to be meeting with the P5-plus-1 and Foreign Minister Zarif, which is a uniquely high-level meeting for the United States and Iran to be participating in together.
            We indicated to the Iranians the same thing privately that we said publicly, which is that President Obama is open to a discussion with his Iranian counterpart.  We did not intend to have a formal bilateral meeting and negotiation of any kind.  This would have rather been them having a few minutes to have a discussion on the margins of the U.N. General Assembly.  That was done at the staff level directly with the Iranians, so not through any intermediary.  Particularly here in New York, it’s not difficult to communicate directly to the Iranians, as they’re coming to UNGA.
            In terms of complications, I think our assessment is while President Rouhani has been elected with a mandate to pursue a more moderate foreign policy towards the West and to pursue negotiations -- in part to achieve sanctions relief -- the issue of the relationship between the United States and Iran is incredibly controversial within Iran.  You heard the President speak to it today -- the decades of mistrust between our countries.  And I think that from the Iranian side, for them it was just too difficult for them to move forward with that type of encounter at the presidential level, at this juncture.  So we’re going to continue the negotiating track through our foreign ministers.
            QUESTION:  When did these conversations begin?  And when did you guys get final word that it wouldn’t happen?  Was it before the President addressed the Assembly this morning, or after?
            SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  Well, I think -- we’ve been having these contacts, I’d just say, while we’ve been here in New York.  Again, I think it’s important to note we never would have contemplated any kind of formal bilateral meeting, but were open to an encounter discussion on the margins.  It became apparent that that was not going to happen today after the President’s remarks, because that’s the window of time when he was going to be over at the U.N. 
           I’d also underscore -- since we came into office, one of the reasons that we’ve been able to maintain international unity among the P5-plus-1 and other countries, and build the sanctions regime that we have in place, is because the United States has indicated our openness to diplomacy with Iran, so that the issue in play is not whether the United States is being recalcitrant in refusing to negotiate, but whether the Iranians will do so.
           So I think it’s important for us to continue to demonstrate to the world that even as we see positive indicators from President Rouhani, that those words needs to be followed by actions.  And there is still clearly need to do more work in order to create the basis for not just a negotiation, but the type of encounter that we were contemplating today…
           Iran has a baseline set of positions that they have taken for a long time.  I think what's different about President Rouhani is not simply some matter of personality.  Clearly, he is not as bombastic as President Ahmadinejad.  He does not say things that are quite as inflammatory as his predecessor.  What's different is he was elected expressly on a mandate to pursue a more moderate foreign policy and to achieve a nuclear deal in order to achieve sanctions relief. 
           And this is the important point:  This is not something that we believe happens out of goodwill; we believe that Iran has an imperative to improve its economy, because every single economic indicator is negative for them.  The only way that they can improve the economy is through achieving sanctions relief.  So that's the context that's changed.  And so if President Rouhani is going to fulfill his commitments to improve the Iranian economy, he is going to need to achieve sanctions relief.  That can only be achieved through a meaningful negotiation and agreement with the international community.  So that's what I think gives us a sense that there's a basis for progress here. 
           So we'll have to continue to test whether those indications can be followed through with different negotiating positions from the Iranian side.  That will take place in the P5-plus-1, starting on Thursday, when Secretary Kerry sits down with his P5 counterparts and Foreign Minister Zarif.  But we would not expect them to shift their negotiating positions publicly on the front end of that process, just as we would not shift our commitment to maintain strong sanctions at the front end of any negotiation.
           QUESTION:  I’m curious, did you go into today thinking that there was a realistic chance that this encounter was going to happen? 
           SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  I don’t think we had -- the interesting thing here is that it's difficult for the Iranians to take this step, given their history.  And so I think we always recognize that.  It was certainly not likely that they'd be able to get over that type of hurdle.  What we're in a position of saying is we want to test this diplomatic process in every way we can.  The substance will take place through the P5-plus-1 and through Secretary Kerry's efforts. 
           At the same time, it's important for us to demonstrate that we're open to any type of negotiation.  And, frankly, in our view, it's a demonstration of strength to say here's a new leader, he’s had some new things to say about this issue -- we're willing to hear him out.  And we'll do that at any time.  And the fact of the matter is we're going to continue to test this, because the achievement of an agreement on Iran's nuclear program, as the President said today, would address a significant national security concern in the United States and the world, and also potentially reduce tensions more broadly in the region.
           So we felt it was important to test today.  It was not something that we had any high degree of certainty would take place.  But we're going to continue to put the test to the Iranians -- because, frankly, ultimately, the onus is on them to demonstrate that this is a real change in course and a real opening.
           The only thing I’d note in that regard, though, is that just the foreign minister-level meeting on Thursday is a change.  Iranian foreign ministers have not sat down with American secretaries of state in any context in a very long time.  And, frankly, that’s where the substance of these negotiations will take place anyway.
           QUESTION:  Was there any concern that there was -- or some risks inherent in going ahead and doing the handshake? 
           SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  Well, we’ve always rejected the premise that somehow just having an encounter with a foreign leader, even of an adversarial nation, is in any way a concession.  And, frankly, the very fact that they were unwilling to go forward with it demonstrates that they were the ones who had discomfort with it in terms of dealing with their own complexities back home.
           I think that it’s important for us to demonstrate to the international community that even as we hear some new things from this leader, we need to stay united in the enforcement of sanctions and the insistence that Iran undertake meaningful commitments as a part of a negotiation and an agreement.  They can't just say different things and expect to achieve a different result, unless they actually follow through with those actions.
           On his speech, look, the President reiterated today our determination to prevent them from developing a nuclear weapon, identified a core interest in the prevention of nuclear proliferation, indicated that all options are available in terms of how we carry out that core interest and protect it.  So I'm sure that's something that the Iranians would indicate has been something that they do not like in our rhetoric.
           The fact of the matter is these issues are going to have to be dealt with through negotiation.  And I think that we are moving with some urgency in that regard.  The Iranians have a sense of urgency, given the fact that the only way their economy can improve is through sanctions relief.  And I think the foreign minister's participation in these meetings indicates the seriousness with which they're approaching diplomacy.
           At the same time, we have a sense of urgency in no small measure because of our concerns about Iran's nuclear program.  And that's something that the Israelis frequently comment on and talk to us about.  We're in close coordination with both Israel and our Gulf allies.  I think they have recognition that it would be preferable to achieve a diplomatic resolution to the Iranian nuclear issue.  They're skeptical of Iranian intentions -- which is understandable, given their history with Iran -- but we do see the potential for progress, certainly more so than we have in the last several years, since we had a negotiation with them in 2009.  And we're going to test that in the weeks ahead. 
           SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  On today, I think what we learned is, as the President said in his speech, we are overcoming a significant history of mistrust, and that there are hurdles to achieving a diplomatic resolution; and that Iran has to do more to demonstrate that some of the conciliatory words that we’ve seen out of President Rouhani will lead to a different position at the negotiating table and different actions in terms of their foreign policy.
           Again, not surprising, but I think important to demonstrate to the world, that the U.S. is open.  The U.S. is ready to negotiate, and that the Iranians need to come seriously to the table.  And we hope that that will be the case beginning later this week, and we’ll continue to test this proposition going forward.
           QUESTION:  Can you help us understand better the complexities that you were sensing from them as to why they couldn’t come to the table?  Did the Iranians ask for anything specifically of the U.S. to have a meeting?  And also, just curious to get an understanding of why you're briefing all of us while Rouhani was speaking.
           SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  I wouldn’t read anything into the latter.  We're just -- that’s purely a logistical issue, so in no way timed to his speaking. 
           On the former, I think we're just mainly speaking to the fact that even with a different Iranian president than President Rouhani -- who has made a central part of his campaign in his initial presidency outreach to the West -- I think given the history in Iran, has difficulty in going forward with this type of encounter.  Every leader has his or her own politics, and that’s certainly the case with President Rouhani.
           Again, I think our view is it's a demonstration of strength to say that you'll meet anytime, anywhere to discuss how to resolve an issue.  And the President is certainly -- will continue to be willing to do that.  I think President Rouhani and the Iranian side will need to determine how they can both move forward through a negotiation that will include the foreign minister level, and then ultimately, what types of changes that they're willing to make in their positions in order to achieve a new relationship with the United States, which depends upon resolving this nuclear issue.
           So it's something we'll continue to test.  This is already a different environment, given the seriousness of the Iranian side in pursuing negotiations in the level that will be started on Thursday.  But we don’t expect there to be an agreement reached on Thursday, either.  This is going to be a process that takes place over time, and that time is not unlimited by any stretch.  I think both sides feel some urgency.  But we'll just continue to test this diplomatic opportunity.
           QUESTION:  But to be clear, did they propose anything in exchange for a handshake today?
           SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  I wouldn’t want to characterize their views too much.  I mean, obviously, they have a set of negotiating positions, but the fact of the matter is we were never contemplating any negotiation between the Presidents.  We were very clear in our discussions that this was not any venue, formal bilateral meeting, or nuclear negotiation; this would have been an informal encounter on the margins of the General Assembly.  And that’s precisely because we want to empower the P5-plus-1 process, the foreign ministers, Secretary Kerry, to be the ones negotiating substance.  That’s why the President announced in his speech that Secretary Kerry will be taking the lead in terms of pursuing this negotiation with the Iranians and the P5-plus-1…
           Well, look, we have a clear statement of policy, which is that we are determined to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon.  Now, we've also made clear we have a preference to do that through diplomacy, but we're not going to change that policy simply because there's a new leader in Iran.
           Again, it's not surprising that the Iranian leader would condemn sanctions.  Sanctions are precisely what has significantly damaged their economy and I think invested them in trying to achieve a resolution through diplomacy.  But we are open to negotiation, open to find ways to build confidence with the Iranians.  As the President said, there's space for an agreement, given that both the Supreme Leader and President Rouhani have said that it is not their policy to pursue nuclear weapons, and the President has said that the Iranian people can have access to peaceful nuclear energy.  It's defining the space within those statements that is going to be the work of diplomats going forward.
           QUESTION:  Sorry if this has already been addressed, but one thing -- is there any reason why Ambassador Power didn’t stay in her seat for all of Rouhani's speech, number one?  Number two… was there something the Iranians wanted in return to make that handshake happen? 
           SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  On Sam Power, I don’t think she was there for the speech.  My understanding is that she was in the bilat with Foreign Minister Lavrov, which, obviously, we have a negotiation going on over the chemical weapons resolution.  But State can speak to that -- but that’s my understanding. 
           On the second thing, I think our point to them -- I wouldn’t want to characterize their side of the discussions other than to say that, in our view, this wasn't a negotiation over substance.  There was never going to be some type of agreement reached in the meeting in the first place.  So that wasn't a discussion we were having or entertaining with them in terms of what we agree -- any substantive agreement that would be reached out of the meeting.  This was more about whether or not the two leaders would get together on the margins of the Assembly.
           QUESTION:  Is there any sense of disappointment from the President that this did not happen?
           SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  No, I think -- look, the President has said for six years now that he's willing to meet the Iranian leadership.  And I think there's, frankly, not just a necessity of testing this proposition, but also demonstrating to the world that we're the ones who are open to negotiation.  That’s how we have maintained international unity.  Without a U.S. willingness to engage Iran, I don’t think we would have achieved the sanctions that we have.  I don’t think we would have maintained P5-plus-1 unity.
           So it's important for us to continue to send that signal.  President Rouhani had sent a number of signals through interviews that he had given leading into the trip that he's taken to New York.  At the end of the day, though, I think we want to demonstrate that the United States is certainly open to this.  But Iran has to change its policies, not just in atmospherics but in their actions.
Sept. 24, 2013 at 2:48 P.M
           SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  What we had indicated was the same thing we’ve been saying to you guys for the last few days and the President said for the last few years, which is we’re open to having discussion with the Iranians at any level.  We did not have any plan for a formal bilateral meeting here.  We indicated that the two leaders could have had a discussion on the margins if the opportunity presented itself.  The Iranians got back to us; it was clear that it was too complicated for them to do that at this time given their own dynamic back home.
           So we’re going to continue to pursue this through the channel that the President announced in his speech today, which is Secretary Kerry with Foreign Minister Zarif in the P5-plus-1.
           QUESTION:  When you say it’s too complicated for them, you’re suggesting that domestically, politically, it was not in their interest?  Is that what you mean?
           SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  I think you’ll have to ask them.  I mean, clearly, there are complicated dynamics in Iran surrounding the relationship with the United States.  Again, at the same time, I think part of what has strengthened the United States in the international community in terms of our unity is the President’s openness to engage Iran, and that’s what we’ve indicated from the beginning of the administration.  And I think that indicates that we’re ready to solve this problem, and that’s what we’ve indicated not just when we came into office, but most recently with President Rouhani...
State Department Spokesperson Jen Psaki
Sept. 23, 2013
            We hope that the new Iranian government will engage substantively with the international community to reach a diplomatic solution to Iran’s nuclear program and to cooperate fully with the IAEA in its investigation.  We remain ready to work with Iran should the Rouhani administration choose to engage seriously.  Secretary Kerry welcomes the Foreign Minister's commitment to a substantive response and to his agreement to meeting in the short term with permanent UN Security Council members and Germany coordinated by EU High Representative Ashton to discuss the nuclear program.
*Emphasis added by Iran Primer

US Reaction to Rouhani at UN: Part 2

      More than a dozen members of Congress have issued statements indicating skepticism towards new Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s diplomatic overtures. In a joint statement, Republican senators John McCain (left), Lindsey Graham and Kelly Ayotte supported the Obama administration’s willingness to try diplomacy with Tehran. But they were suspicious about the “real motivations behind Iran’s charm offensive.” Rouhani has committed Tehran to constructive engagement with the outside world in several recent interviews and statements, including his September 24 address to the United Nations.

           Other members of Congress were less willing to test Iran’s sincerity through diplomacy. Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen argued that now is the “time to deliver the crushing blow” to the regime. A group of 11 Republican senators led by Marco Rubio urged President Obama “to increase pressure on Iran and to stand with the Iranian people, not pursue diplomatic half-measures that will allow their rulers to continue to delay and obfuscate and avoid real reforms.” The following are excerpted statements and letters by members of Congress on Iran and President Obama’s policies.

Skeptical Reactions to President Rouhani
Senators John McCain (R- Arizona), Lindsey Graham (R- South Carolina) and Kelly Ayotte (R- New Hampshire)
Sept. 24, 2013
             We support the willingness of the Obama Administration to test the credibility of the Iranian regime’s diplomatic overtures. However, we are deeply skeptical about the real motivations behind Iran's charm offensive. We need to approach the current diplomatic initiative with eyes wide open, and we must not allow Iran to use negotiations as a tool of delay and deception. A real negotiation does not mean that the diplomats talk while the Iranians enrich.
            When Secretary Kerry sits down with the Iranian Foreign Minister, we urge him to make clear that the U.S. government, the American people, and the U.S. Congress will never allow the world’s worst state sponsor of terrorism to acquire the world’s most dangerous weapon. Kind words are not enough. We must see transparent, tangible, and verifiable steps by the Iranian regime to fulfill its international obligations and end its pursuit of a nuclear weapons capability. The American people and Congress will not support anything less.
            We also urge Secretary Kerry to make clear to the Iranian Foreign Minister that, while Iran’s pursuit of a nuclear weapons capability is our top concern, it is not our only concern. We are also opposed to the Iranian regime’s efforts to destabilize the Middle East – including its support for terrorist organizations and attacks across the region that have killed Americans; its commitment to the destruction of Israel; its attempts to assassinate Israeli and Arab officials; its oppression of the Iranian people; its threat to friendly Arab governments; its development of increasingly capable ballistic missiles; and its unwavering military assistance to the Assad regime, which has slaughtered more than 110,000 men, women, and children.
Critical Reactions to President Rouhani
Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R- Florida)
Sept. 24, 2013
            It’s clear that sanctions imposed against the regime in Tehran by both the U.S. and UN have weakened Iran’s economy and have measurably reduced the regime’s ability to acquire materials needed to complete its nuclear program. Now is not the time to ease the pressure; it’s the time to deliver the crushing blow. The regime’s charm offensive shows that there is a crack in its façade, and we must impose even harsher sanctions until the mullahs give up on their nuclear ambitions.
            North Korea provides an example of what happens when the United States offers concessions for empty promises and rhetoric. I call on the Administration to re-designate North Korea as a State Sponsor of Terrorism because of its continued support of Tehran in its pursuit of nuclear weapons, and other illicit activities. Direct negotiations with the Iranian regime would undermine U.S. national security interests and the security of our ally, the democratic Jewish State of Israel. The Administration must not fall for Rouhani’s deception, and it must not offer any concessions that will simply buy Tehran more time to reach its objective. The world would be faced with the reality of a nuclear armed Iran and an all-out arms race in the Middle East.
House Committee on Foreign Affairs Chairman Ed Royce (R- California)
Sept. 24, 2013
            We don’t need words from Rouhani; we need real action from Tehran.  The regime’s commitment to negotiations shouldn’t be measured by rhetoric, but by the nuclear activities it ceases.  Through crippling economic sanctions we can continue to increase the pressure on the regime, targeting its ability to pursue a nuclear weapons capability.
Senators Marco Rubio (R- Florida), Pat Roberts (R- Kansas), John Cornyn (R- Texas), John Hoeven (R- North Dakota), James Risch (R- Idaho), David Vitter (R- Louisiana), Roy Blunt (R- Missouri), John Boozman (R- Arkansas), Ted Cruz (R- Texas), Dan Coats (R- Indiana) and John Barrasso (R- Wyoming) 
Sept. 24, 2013
            Dear Mr. President:
            We are writing to you given recent press reports about the exchange of letters you have had with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani.
            We are skeptical that Mr. Rouhani’s election will bring much change to Iranian policies.  As you know, Iran continues to support its key ally Bashar al-Assad, by some estimates sending thousands of Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps and Hezbollah fighters to prop up the Assad government and aid its horrific killing of thousands of Syrians, including through the use of chemical weapons.
            Also, despite the hopes that many have had that Mr. Rouhani would dramatically improve Iran’s abysmal human rights situation, Iranians still are being denied their fundamental freedoms of assembly, the press, and conscience.  For example, this week marks the one year anniversary of the imprisonment of Iranian-American pastor Saeed Abedini who is serving an eight year prison term for practicing his faith.
            Iran also continues to make steady progress toward a nuclear weapon.  Based on the latest report of the International Atomic Energy Agency, it appears that Iran could reach the so-called “critical capability” to produce enough weapons-grade uranium for a nuclear explosive device without being detected by mid-2014, if not earlier.    Despite sanctions and international pressure and the arrival of Mr. Rouhani, Iran has not changed course and is close to obtaining this capability that will likely result in a cascade of nuclear proliferation in one of the world’s most volatile regions.
            On September 15th, you said that a credible threat of force was important to a resolution of the Iranian nuclear issue.  We are writing to make clear that although those of us on this letter were unable to support your request for congressional authorization to use military force in Syria because of our concerns about the underlying strategy, we all agree that Iran should not perceive any weakness as a result of our differences over Syria policy.  Tehran must understand that while there may be disagreements in the United States about how best to bring about the fall of Assad, that we are united in our determination to prevent an Iranian nuclear weapon.
            We are thus troubled by reports that you might be considering offering a new proposal that would leave the door open to a nuclear Iran, perhaps allowing Iran to preserve part of its nuclear weapons program. 
            We understand that Iran has a right under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty to peaceful civilian nuclear energy.  We do not believe, however, that this means that Iran should have access to the entire nuclear fuel cycle.  As a country that has repeatedly and blatantly violated its international obligations in this area and because of the proliferation risk posed by even a limited enrichment program and possession of sensitive reprocessing technologies, we will not be able to support any deal with Iran, including through sanctions relief, that compromises on this issue.  Iran’s track record of obfuscation and delay is clear and so is the risk to Israel as well as other U.S. allies and interests in the region.  Given this record and the risks, Iran must not be allowed to retain any enrichment or reprocessing capabilities.
            This is a key moment in the Middle East as many of Iran’s neighbors are struggling with how to respond to the desires of their people for freedom and an end to decades of authoritarian rule.
            We stand ready to work with you to send a bipartisan message to the Iranian regime that its continued desire for a nuclear weapons capability as well as its continued support for terrorism, its repression of its people, and its increasingly overt involvement in a civil war that has now killed more than one hundred thousand Syrians are all unacceptable. 
            Now is the time to increase pressure on Iran and to stand with the Iranian people, not pursue diplomatic half-measures that will allow their rulers to continue to delay and obfuscate and avoid real reforms.  We look forward to working with you on this vital issue to U.S. national security.
Senator Ted Cruz (R- Texas)
            Senator Cruz introduced the following resolution on September 24.
            Whereas the newly elected President of Iran, Hassan Rouhani, is attending the 68th session of the United Nations General Assembly in New York City;
            Whereas the Government of Iran has yet to take any practical steps towards halting Iran's nuclear programs and remains a committed state-sponsor of terrorist groups that have been responsible for American deaths in Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, and Afghanistan;
            Whereas, since the election of President Rouhani, the persecution by the Government of Iran of religious minorities, notably Christians, has increased not decreased, and the United States citizen Pastor Sayeed Abedini has endured a year of brutal imprisonment for professing his faith;
            Whereas President Rouhani has called Israel the ``Zionist state'' that has been ``a wound that has sat on the body of the Muslim world for years and needs to be removed''; and
Whereas President Barack Obama has signaled a willingness to meet with President Rouhani in New York during the meeting of the United Nations Security Council or thereafter: Now, therefore, be it
            Resolved, That it is the sense of the Senate that President Obama should not engage in any meeting with President Rouhani before the Government of Iran --
    (1) affirms the right of Israel to exist as a Jewish state; and
    (2) immediately and without conditions releases all United States citizens unjustly detained as prisoners of conscience in Iran.
Reactions and Messages to President Obama
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R- Virginia)
Sept. 24, 2013
            Contrary to President Obama’s comments, the world is not more stable than it was five years ago.
            The world needs American leadership and an honest assessment of the challenges we face. Perhaps the most urgent challenge is the need to confront Iran for its aggressive pursuit of nuclear weapons, flagrant violations of international law, embrace of radical terrorism and blind support for Assad's brutal assault on the Syrian people. We should test the new Iranian President, but also be realistic that neither Iran's real leaders — the Supreme Leader, clerical elite and security apparatus — nor their policies have changed since President Rouhani took office.
            Iran must come into compliance with the repeated demands of the U.N. Security Council and negotiate the verifiable abandonment of its nuclear weapons program, or face even greater pressure, including the real threat of military force. Congress will not be not fooled by President Rouhani's empty gestures. We will welcome real change in Iran's behavior if it comes – and we will be prepared if it does not.
Senator Robert Menendez (D- New Jersey) and Senator Lindsey Graham (R- South Carolina)
Sept. 23, 2013
            Dear Mr. President:
            As you prepare to deliver remarks to the United Nations later this week, we urge you to re-state the United States position that we will not permit Iran to achieve a nuclear weapons capability and demand verifiable action from Iran that will permit the possibility of a diplomatic accord with the international community.
            Like you, we viewed the election of Hassan Rouhani as an indicator of discontent amongst the Iranian people and we have taken note of recent diplomatic overtures by Iran. However, whatever nice words we may hear from Mr. Rouhani, it is Iranian action that matters. We would welcome a credible and verifiable agreement with Iran. A real agreement would have real benefits for Iran.
            We also recall, however, Iran’s prior use of negotiations as a subterfuge for progress on its clandestine nuclear program, as well as Iran’s continued financing of terrorist activities -- from those carried out by its own Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps to its support for Hezbollah whose actions have most recently strengthened the brutal hand of Bashar al-Assad. Iran is not a friend whose word can be taken as a promise. The test of Iranian seriousness must be verifiable action by Iran to terminate its nuclear weapons program, including compliance with the mandates of four UN Security Council Resolutions.
            In the letter sent to you on August 2, signed by 76 Senators, we expressed our belief that there are four strategic elements necessary to achieve a resolution of this issue: an explicit and continuing message that we will not allow Iran to acquire a nuclear weapons capability, a sincere demonstration of openness to negotiations by Iran, the maintenance and toughening of sanctions and a convincing threat of the use of force. We reiterate those views in this letter.
            The national security implications of a nuclear Iran are unimaginable -- threatening the very existence of our ally the State of Israel, as well as launching an all but certain nuclear arms race in the most volatile region of the world.
            As you prepare to address the United Nations next week in New York, we urge you to make clear the United States’ goal of achieving a diplomatic solution, but also our resolve to take whatever action is necessary to prevent Iran from become a nuclear state.
Senator Charles Schumer (D- New York) and Senator John McCain (R- Arizona)
Sept. 23, 2013
            Dear Mr. President:
            As you prepare to address the United Nations General Assembly tomorrow and consider a meeting with Iranian President Hasan Rouhani, we respectfully urge that any diplomatic outreach to Iran reemphasize that the United States will not allow Iran to acquire a nuclear weapons capability and that any relief from crippling economic sanctions on Iran will only be provided if Iran takes meaningful and verifiable actions to halt its nuclear activities. Over the past several years, an overwhelming bipartisan majority in Congress has worked with your administration to put in place the most rigorous sanctions on Iran. These measures have had an overwhelming impact on the Iranian economy, causing a sharp drop in the value of Iran’s currency and crippling key sectors of its economy, such as energy, banking and shipping. The impact of these sanctions may finally be bringing Iran to the negotiating table, and now is not the time to delay, remove or loosen these measures. Doing so now would be extremely counterproductive. Instead, we should continue to move forward with strong implementation of our sanctions unless Iran suspends its nuclear program.
            As you know, the Iranian government, to this very day, has continued to press forward with its nuclear program. It has quintupled its stockpile of low enriched uranium since 2009 and has come much closer to possessing weapons-grade uranium by enriching up to 20 percent of it. Iran has also raced towards completion of its hardened Fordow enrichment facility, more than doubling the number of centrifuges installed there just since July 2012. These facts mean that Iran is very much in hot pursuit of a nuclear weapons capability, and we must do everything we can to bring their ambitions to a halt. Your speech to the General Assembly and potential U.S. discussions with President Rouhani or other Iranian officials offer a possible opening to establish expectations for diplomatic talks and set the tone that an Iranian nuclear weapons capability will not be tolerated.
            First, we strongly believe that it must be reemphasized that it is the policy of the United States that it will not allow Iran to acquire a nuclear weapons capability. With the world’s attention on Syria and other matters, this is an opportunity to reinforce that there will be absolutely no relaxing of pressure on the Iranians until the entirety of their nuclear situation has been addressed. Iran must show it is serious about reaching a legitimate diplomatic solution accompanied by full and verifiable compliance. Talks cannot be merely a stalling tactic, while Iran continues to move forward with aggressive enrichment of uranium. This would require Iran to fully implement all of its obligations under numerous United Nations Security Council resolutions, including the suspension of all enrichment and reprocessing activities, as well as the removal from its territory of all uranium enriched to the twenty percent level.
            Second, we believe that the United States must make use of all elements of our national power to pressure Iran, including the aggressive implementation of existing sanctions. Now is not the time to let up on this pressure. Removal of any existing sanctions must depend on Iran’s halting of its nuclear program. Conversely, the continuation or expansion of its nuclear activities will only lead to more sanctions led by the United States and our friends and allies. We must make it clear that the United States will not scale back sanctions unless accompanied by real, meaningful action by the Iranian regime.
            Third, it is important that you reiterate to Iran the seriousness of our resolve. We believe no one should question American intent to act against Iran’s nuclear program. Strengthening the threat of force will be necessary if talks with Iran are to succeed.
            We respectfully urge that any diplomatic outreach to Iran reemphasize that the United States will not allow Iran to acquire a nuclear weapons capability and that any relief of crippling economic sanctions on Iran will only be provided if Iran takes meaningful and verifiable actions to halt its nuclear activities.
            We look forward to working with you on this important task.
 *Emphasis added by Iran Primer


Rouhani’s Debut Address to UN

            On September 24, President Hassan Rouhani delivered his debut address to the U.N. General Assembly. The following is the official translation of his speech.

      In the name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful. Praise be to God, the Lord of the worlds. Blessing and peace be upon our Prophet Mohammad and his kin and companions.
      Mr. President, Mr. Secretary General, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,
      At the outset, I would like to offer my most sincere felicitations on your deserved election to the presidency of the General Assembly and seize the moment to express appreciation for the valuable efforts of our distinguished Secretary General.
            Our world today is replete with fear and hope; fear of war and hostile regional and global relations; fear of deadly confrontation of religious, ethnic and national identities; fear of institutionalization of violence and extremism; fear of poverty and destructive discrimination; fear of decay and destruction of life-sustaining resources; fear of disregard for human dignity and rights; and fear of neglect of morality. Alongside these fears, however, there are new hopes; the hope of universal acceptance by the people and the elite all across the globe of "yes to peace and no to war"; and the hope of preference of dialogue over conflict, and moderation over extremism.
            The recent elections in Iran represent a clear, living example of the wise choice of hope, rationality and moderation by the great people of Iran. The realization of democracy consistent with religion and the peaceful transfer of executive power manifested that Iran is the anchor of stability in an otherwise ocean of regional instabilities. The firm belief of our people and government in enduring peace, stability, tranquility, peaceful resolution of disputes and reliance on the ballot box as the basis of power, public acceptance and legitimacy, has indeed played a key role in creating such a safe environment.
            Mr. President, Ladies and Gentlemen,
            The current critical period of transition in international relations is replete with dangers, albeit with unique opportunities. Any miscalculation of one's position, and of course, of others, will bear historic damages; a mistake by one actor will have negative impact on all others. Vulnerability is now a global and indivisible phenomenon.
            At this sensitive juncture in the history global relations, the age of zero-sum games is over, even though a few actors still tend to rely on archaic and deeply ineffective ways and means to preserve their old superiority and domination. Militarism and the recourse to violent and military means to subjugate others are failed examples of the perpetuation of old ways in new circumstances.
            Coercive economic and military policies and practices geared to the maintenance and preservation of old superiorities and dominations have been pursued in a conceptual mindset that negates peace, security, human dignity, and exalted human ideals. Ignoring differences between societies and globalizing Western values as universal ones represent another manifestation of this conceptual mindset. Yet another reflection of the same cognitive model is the persistence of Cold War mentality and bi-polar division of the world into "superior us" and "inferior others."
            Fanning fear and phobia around the emergence of new actors on the world scene is another. In such an environment, governmental and non-governmental, religious, ethnic, and even racial violence has increased, and there is no guarantee that the era of quiet among big powers will remain immune from such violent discourses, practices and actions. The catastrophic impact of violent and extremist narratives should not - in fact, must not - be underestimated.
            In this context, the strategic violence, which is manifested in the efforts to deprive regional players from their natural domain of action, containment policies, regime change from outside, and the efforts towards redrawing of political borders and frontiers, is extremely dangerous and provocative.
            The prevalent international political discourse depicts a civilized center surrounded by un-civilized peripheries. In this picture, the relation between the center of world power and the peripheries is hegemonic. The discourse assigning the North the center stage and relegating the South to the periphery has led to the establishment of a monologue at the level of international relations. The creation of illusory identity distinctions and the current prevalent violent forms of xenophobia are the inevitable outcome of such a discourse. Propagandistic and unfounded faith-phobic, Islamo-phobic, Shia-phobic, and Iran-phobic discourses do indeed represent serious threats against world peace and human security.
            This propagandistic discourse has assumed dangerous proportions through portrayal and inculcation of presumed imaginary threats. One such imaginary threat is the so-called "Iranian threat" -which has been employed as an excuse to justify a long catalogue of crimes and catastrophic practices over the past three decades. The arming of the Saddam Hussein regime with chemical weapons and supporting the Taliban and Al-Qaida are just two examples of such catastrophes. Let me say this in all sincerity before this august world assembly, that based on irrefutable evidence, those who harp on the so-called threat of Iran are either a threat against international peace and security themselves or promote such a threat. Iran poses absolutely no threat to the world or the region. In fact, in ideals as well as in actual practice, my country has been a harbinger of just peace and comprehensive security.
            Mr. President, Ladies and Gentlemen,
            Nowhere in the world has violence been so deadly and destructive as in North Africa and West Asia. Military intervention in Afghanistan, Saddam Hussein's imposed war against Iran, occupation of Kuwait, military interventions against Iraq, brutal repression of the Palestinian people, assassination of common people and political figures in Iran, and terrorist bombings in countries such as Iraq, Afghanistan and Lebanon are examples of violence in this region in the last three decades.
            What has been - and continues to be - practiced against the innocent people of Palestine is nothing less than structural violence. Palestine is under occupation; the basic rights of the Palestinians are tragically violated, and they are deprived of the right of return and access to their homes, birthplace and homeland. Apartheid as a concept can hardly describe the crimes and the institutionalized aggression against the innocent Palestinian people.
            The human tragedy in Syria represents a painful example of catastrophic spread of violence and extremism in our region. From the very outset of the crisis and when some regional and international actors helped to militarize the situation through infusion of arms and intelligence into the country and active support of extremist groups, we emphasized that there was no military solution to the Syrian crisis. Pursuit of expansionist strategies and objectives and attempts to change the regional balance through proxies cannot be camouflaged behind humanitarian rhetoric. The common objective of the international community should be a quick end to the killing of the innocent. While condemning any use of chemical weapons, we welcome Syria's acceptance of the Chemical Weapons Convention, and believe that the access by extremist terrorist groups to such weapons is the greatest danger to the region that must be considered in any disarmament plan. Simultaneously, I should underline that illegitimate and ineffective threat to use or the actual use of force will only lead to further exacerbation of violence and crisis in the region.
            Terrorism and the killing of innocent people represent the ultimate inhumanity of extremism and violence. Terrorism is a violent scourge and knows no country or national borders. But, the violence and extreme actions such as the use of drones against innocent people in the name of combating terrorism should also be condemned. Here, I should also say a word about the criminal assassination of Iranian nuclear scientists. For what crimes have they been assassinated? The United Nations and the Security Council should answer the question: have the perpetrators been condemned?
            Unjust sanctions, as manifestation of structural violence, are intrinsically inhumane and against peace. And contrary to the claims of those who pursue and impose them, it is not the states and the political elite that are targeted, but rather, it is the common people who are victimized by these sanctions. Let us not forget millions of Iraqis who, as a result of sanctions covered in international legal jargon, suffered and lost their lives, and many more who continue to suffer all through their lives. These sanctions are violent, pure and simple; whether called smart or otherwise, unilateral or multilateral. These sanctions violate inalienable human rights, inter alia, the right to peace, fight to development, right to access to health and education, and above all, the right to life. Sanctions, beyond any and all rhetoric, cause belligerence, warmongering and human suffering. It should be borne in mind, however, that the negative impact is not merely limited to the intended victims of sanctions; it also affects the economy and livelihood of other countries and societies, including the countries imposing sanctions.
            Mr. President, Excellencies,
            Violence and extremism nowadays have gone beyond the physical realm and have unfortunately afflicted and tarnished the mental and spiritual dimensions of life in human societies. Violence and extremism leave no space for understanding and moderation as the necessary foundations of collective life of human beings and the modem society. Intolerance is the predicament of our time. We need to promote and reinforce tolerance in light of the religious teachings and appropriate cultural and political approaches. The human society should be elevated from a state of mere tolerance to that of collective collaboration. We should not just tolerate others. We should rise above mere tolerance and dare to work together.
            People all over the world are tired of war, violence and extremism. They hope for a change in the status quo. And this is a unique opportunity - for us all. The Islamic Republic of Iran believes that all challenges can be managed - successfully - through a smart, judicious blend of hope and moderation. Warmongers are bent on extinguishing all hope. But hope for change for the better is an innate, religious, widespread, and universal concept.
            Hope is founded on the belief in the universal will of the people across the globe to combat violence and extremism, to cherish change, to oppose imposed structures, to value choice, and to act in accordance with human responsibility. Hope is no doubt one of the greatest gifts bestowed upon human beings by their All-Loving Creator. And moderation is to think and move in a wise, judicious manner, conscious of the time and the space, and to align exalted ideals with choice of effective strategies and policies, while cognizant of objective realities.
            The Iranian people, in a judiciously sober choice in the recent elections, voted for the discourse of hope, foresight and prudent moderation - both at home and abroad. In foreign policy, the combination of these elements means that the Islamic Republic of Iran, as a regional power, will act responsibly with regard to regional and international security, and is willing and prepared to cooperate in these fields, bilaterally as well as multilaterally, with other responsible actors. We defend peace based on democracy and the ballot box everywhere, including in Syria, Bahrain, and other countries in the region, and believe that there are no violent solutions to world crises. The bitter and ugly realities of the human society can only be overcome through recourse to and reliance on human wisdom, interaction and moderation. Securing peace and democracy and ensuring the legitimate rights of all countries in the world, including in the Middle East, cannot - and will not - be realized through militarism.
            Iran seeks to resolve problems, not to create them. There is no issue or dossier that cannot be resolved through reliance on hope and prudent moderation, mutual respect, and rejection of violence and extremism. Iran's nuclear dossier is a case in point. As clearly stated by the Leader of the Islamic Revolution, acceptance of the inalienable right of Iran constitutes the best and the easiest way of resolving this issue. This is not political rhetoric. Rather, it is based on a profound recognition of the state of technology in Iran, global political environment, the end of the era of zero-sum games, and the imperative of seeking common objectives and interests towards reaching common understanding and shared security. Put otherwise, Iran and other actors should pursue two common objectives as two mutually inseparable parts of a political solution for the nuclear dossier of Iran.
            Iran's nuclear program - and for that matter, that of all other countries – must pursue exclusively peaceful purposes. I declare here, openly and unambiguously, that, notwithstanding the positions of others, this has been, and will always be, the objective of the Islamic Republic of Iran. Nuclear weapon and other weapons of mass destruction have no place in Iran's security and defense doctrine, and contradict our fundamental religious and ethical convictions. Our national interests make it imperative that we remove any and all reasonable concerns about Iran's peaceful nuclear program.
            The second objective, that is, acceptance of and respect for the implementation of the right to enrichment inside Iran and enjoyment of other related nuclear rights, provides the only path towards achieving the first objective. Nuclear knowledge in Iran has been domesticated now and the nuclear technology, inclusive of enrichment, has already reached industrial scale. It is, therefore, an illusion, and extremely unrealistic, to presume that the peaceful nature of the nuclear program of Iran could be ensured through impeding the program via illegitimate pressures.
            In this context, the Islamic Republic of Iran, insisting on the implementation of its rights and the imperative of international respect and cooperation in this exercise, is prepared to engage immediately in time-bound and result-oriented talks to build mutual confidence and removal of mutual uncertainties with full transparency.
            Iran seeks constructive engagement with other countries based on mutual respect and common interest, and within the same framework does not seek to increase tensions with the United States. I listened carefully to the statement made by President Obama today at the General Assembly. Commensurate with the political will of the leadership in the United States and hoping that they will refrain from following the short-sighted interest of warmongering pressure groups, we can arrive at a framework to manage our differences. To this end, equal footing, mutual respect, and the recognized principles of international law should govern the interactions. Of course, we expect to hear a consistent voice from Washington.
            Mr. President, Ladies and Gentlemen,
            In recent years, a dominant voice has been repeatedly heard: "The military option is on the table." Against the backdrop of this illegal and ineffective contention, let me say loud and clear that "peace is within reach." So, in the name of the Islamic Republic of Iran I propose, as a starting step, the consideration by the United Nations of the project: "the World Against Violence and Extremism." (WAVE) Let us all join this "WAVE." I invite all states, international organizations and civil institutions to undertake a new effort to guide the world in this direction. We should start thinking about "Coalition for Enduing Peace" all across the globe instead of the ineffective "Coalitions for War" in various parts of the world.
            Today, the Islamic Republic of Iran invites you and the entire world community to take a step forward; an invitation to join the WAVE: World Against Violence and Extremism. We should accept and be able to open a new horizon in which peace will prevail over war, tolerance over violence, progress over bloodletting, justice over discrimination, prosperity over poverty, and freedom over despotism. As beautifully said by Ferdowsi, the renowned Iranian epic poet:
            Be relentless in striving for the cause of Good
            Bring the spring, you must, Banish the winter, you should
            Notwithstanding all difficulties and challenges, I am deeply optimistic about the future. I have no doubt that the future will be bright with the entire world solidly rejecting violence and extremism. Prudent moderation will ensure a bright future for the world. My hope, aside from personal and national experience, emanates from the belief shared by all divine religions that a good and bright future awaits the world. As stated in the Holy Qur'an:
            And We proclaimed in the Psalms, after We had proclaimed in the Torah, that My virtuous servants will inherit the earth.
Thank you Mr. President.

Rouhani’s UN Speech in Tweets

           President Hassan Rouhani’s office released a flurry of more than 40 tweets during and immediately after his September 24 address to the U.N. General Assembly. The following tweets from @HassanRouhani appear in chronological order below.













































Obama Speaks on Iran at UN

      President Barack Obama told the U.N. General Assembly that the diplomatic path to resolving the Iranian nuclear dispute must be tested. Obama acknowledged past statements opposing nuclear weapons by top Iranian leaders. And he suggested that a nuclear deal could “serve as a major step down a long road towards a different [U.S.-Iran] relationship – one based on mutual interests and mutual respect.” The president’s speech was one of the most significant instances of U.S. public outreach to Iran since the 1979 revolution.
But Obama warned that “conciliatory words will have to be matched by actions are transparent and verifiable.” He also acknowledged that “suspicion runs too deep” to instantly overcome Iran-U.S. tensions dating back more than three decades. Obama referenced the CIA-orchestrated coup against Iran's democratically elected government in 1953. He then clearly stated that Washington is not interested in regime change. The president, however, also pointed out that Iran or its proxies have "taken Americans hostage, killed U.S. troops and civilians, and threatened our ally Israel with destruction."
President Obama also discussed developments in Egypt, Syria and the wider Middle East. It’s time for Russia and Iran to realize that insisting on Assad’s rule will lead directly to the outcome they fear: an increasingly violent space for extremists to operate,” the president said in comments on the Syrian conflict. The following are excerpts from Obama’s speech.

            The United States and Iran have been isolated from one another since the Islamic Revolution of 1979. This mistrust has deep roots. Iranians have long complained of a history of U.S. interference in their affairs, and America’s role in overthrowing an Iranian government during the Cold War. On the other hand, Americans see an Iranian government that has declared the United States an enemy, and directly – or through proxies – taken Americans hostage, killed U.S. troops and civilians, and threatened our ally Israel with destruction.
            I don’t believe this difficult history can be overcome overnight – the suspicion runs too deep. But I do believe that if we can resolve the issue of Iran’s nuclear program, that can serve as a major step down a long road towards a different relationship – one based on mutual interests and mutual respect.
            Since I took office, I have made it clear – in letters to the Supreme Leader in Iran and more recently to President Rouhani – that America prefers to resolve our concerns over Iran’s nuclear program peacefully, but that we are determined to prevent them from developing a nuclear weapon. We are not seeking regime change, and we respect the right of the Iranian people to access peaceful nuclear energy. Instead, we insist that the Iranian government meet its responsibilities under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and UN Security Council resolutions.
            Meanwhile, the Supreme Leader has issued a fatwa against the development of nuclear weapons, and President Rouhani has just recently reiterated that the Islamic Republic will never develop a nuclear weapon.
            These statements made by our respective governments should offer the basis for a meaningful agreement. We should be able to achieve a resolution that respects the rights of the Iranian people, while giving the world confidence that the Iranian program is peaceful. To succeed, conciliatory words will have to be matched by actions that are transparent and verifiable. After all, it is the Iranian government’s choices that have led to the comprehensive sanctions that are currently in place. This isn’t simply an issue between America and Iran – the world has seen Iran evade its responsibilities in the past, and has an abiding interest in making sure that Iran meets its obligations in the future.   
            We are encouraged that President Rouhani received from the Iranian people a mandate to pursue a more moderate course. Given President Rouhani’s stated commitment to reach an agreement, I am directing John Kerry to pursue this effort with the Iranian government, in close coordination with the European Union, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Russia and China. The roadblocks may prove to be too great, but I firmly believe the diplomatic path must be tested. For while the status quo will only deepen Iran’s isolation, Iran’s genuine commitment to go down a different path will be good for the region and the world, and will help the Iranian people meet their extraordinary potential – in commerce and culture; in science and education.
            Nowhere have we seen these [sectarian] trends converge more powerfully than in Syria. There, peaceful protests against an authoritarian regime were met with repression and slaughter. In the face of carnage, many retreated to their sectarian identity – Alawite and Sunni; Christian and Kurd – and the situation spiraled into civil war. The international community recognized the stakes early on, but our response has not matched the scale of the challenge. Aid cannot keep pace with the suffering of the wounded and displaced. A peace process is still-born. America and others have worked to bolster the moderate opposition, but extremist groups have still taken root to exploit the crisis. Assad’s traditional allies have propped him up, citing principles of sovereignty to shield his regime. And on August 21st, the regime used chemical weapons in an attack that killed more than 1,000 people, including hundreds of children.
            With respect to Syria, we believe that as a starting point, the international community must enforce the ban on chemical weapons. When I stated my willingness to order a limited strike against the Assad regime in response to the brazen use of chemical weapons, I did not do so lightly. I did so because I believe it is in the security interest of the United States and the world to meaningfully enforce a prohibition whose origins are older than the U.N. itself. The ban against the use of chemical weapons, even in war, has been agreed to by 98 percent of humanity. It is strengthened by the searing memories of soldiers suffocated in the trenches; Jews slaughtered in gas chambers; and Iranians poisoned in the many tens of thousands.
            The evidence is overwhelming that the Assad regime used such weapons on August 21st. U.N. inspectors gave a clear accounting that advanced rockets fired large quantities of sarin gas at civilians. These rockets were fired from a regime-controlled neighborhood, and landed in opposition neighborhoods.  It is an insult to human reason – and to the legitimacy of this institution – to suggest that anyone other than the regime carried out this attack.
            I know that in the immediate aftermath of the attack, there were those who questioned the legitimacy of even a limited strike in the absence of a clear mandate from the Security Council. But without a credible military threat, the Security Council had demonstrated no inclination to act at all. However, as I’ve discussed with President Putin for over a year, most recently in St. Petersburg, my preference has always been a diplomatic resolution to this issue, and in the past several weeks, the United States, Russia and our allies have reached an agreement to place Syria’s chemical weapons under international control, and then to destroy them.
            The Syrian government took a first step by giving an accounting of its stockpiles. Now, there must be a strong Security Council Resolution to verify that the Assad regime is keeping its commitments, and there must be consequences if they fail to do so. If we cannot agree even on this, then it will show that the U.N. is incapable of enforcing the most basic of international laws. On the other hand, if we succeed, it will send a powerful message that the use of chemical weapons has no place in the 21st century, and that this body means what it says.
            Agreement on chemical weapons should energize a larger diplomatic effort to reach a political settlement within Syria. I do not believe that military action – by those within Syria, or by external powers – can achieve a lasting peace. Nor do I believe that America or any nation should determine who will lead Syria – that is for the Syrian people to decide. Nevertheless, a leader who slaughtered his citizens and gassed children to death cannot regain the legitimacy to lead a badly fractured country. The notion that Syria can return to a pre-war status quo is a fantasy. It’s time for Russia and Iran to realize that insisting on Assad’s rule will lead directly to the outcome they fear: an increasingly violent space for extremists to operate. In turn, those of us who continue to support the moderate opposition must persuade them that the Syrian people cannot afford a collapse of state institutions, and that a political settlement cannot be reached without addressing the legitimate fears of Alawites and other minorities. 
            As we pursue a settlement, let us remember that this is not a zero-sum endeavor. We are no longer in a Cold War. There’s no Great Game to be won, nor does America have any interest in Syria beyond the well-being of its people, the stability of its neighbors, the elimination of chemical weapons, and ensuring it does not become a safe-haven for terrorists. I welcome the influence of all nations that can help bring about a peaceful resolution of Syria’s civil war. And as we move the Geneva process forward, I urge all nations here to step up to meet humanitarian needs in Syria and surrounding countries. America has committed over a billion dollars to this effort, and today, I can announce that we will be providing an additional $340 million. No aid can take the place of a political resolution that gives the Syrian people the chance to begin rebuilding their country – but it can help desperate people survive.
Middle East and North Africa
             Just as significantly, the convulsions in the Middle East and North Africa have laid bare deep divisions within societies, as an old order is upended, and people grapple with what comes next. Peaceful movements have been answered by violence – from those resisting change, and from extremists trying to hijack change. Sectarian conflict has reemerged. And the potential spread of weapons of mass destruction casts a shadow over the pursuit of peace.  
             The crisis in Syria, and the destabilization of the region, goes to the heart of broader challenges that the international community must now confront. How should we respond to conflicts in the Middle East and North Africa – conflicts between countries, but also conflicts within them? How do we address the choice of standing callously by while children are subjected to nerve gas, or embroiling ourselves in someone else’s civil war? What is the role of force in resolving disputes that threaten the stability of the region and undermine all basic standards of civilized conduct? What is the role of the United Nations, and international law, in meeting cries for justice?
             Now, to say these are America’s core interests is not to say these are our only interests. We deeply believe it is in our interest to see a Middle East and North Africa that is peaceful and prosperous; and will continue to promote democracy, human rights, and open markets, because we believe these practices achieve peace and prosperity. But I also believe that we can rarely achieve these objectives through unilateral American action – particularly with military action. Iraq shows us that democracy cannot be imposed by force. Rather, these objectives are best achieved when we partner with the international community, and with the countries and people of the region.
             When peaceful transitions began in Tunisia and Egypt, the entire world was filled with hope. And although the United States – like others – was struck by the speed of transition, and did not – in fact could not – dictate events, we chose to support those who called for change. We did so based on the belief that while these transitions will be hard, and take time, societies based upon democracy and openness and the dignity of the individual will ultimately be more stable, more prosperous, and more peaceful. 
             Over the last few years, particularly in Egypt, we’ve seen just how hard this transition will be. Mohammed Morsi was democratically elected, but proved unwilling or unable to govern in a way that was fully inclusive. The interim government that replaced him responded to the desires of millions of Egyptians who believed the revolution had taken a wrong turn, but it too has made decisions inconsistent with inclusive democracy – through an emergency law, and restrictions on the press, civil society, and opposition parties.
             Of course, America has been attacked by all sides of this internal conflict, simultaneously accused of supporting the Muslim Brotherhood, and engineering their removal from power. In fact, the United States has purposely avoided choosing sides. Our over-riding interest throughout these past few years has been to encourage a government that legitimately reflects the will of the Egyptian people, and recognizes true democracy as requiring a respect for minority rights, the rule of law, freedom of speech and assembly, and a strong civil society.
             That remains our interest today. And so, going forward, the United States will maintain a constructive relationship with the interim government that promotes core interests like the Camp David Accords and counter-terrorism. We will continue support in areas like education that benefit the Egyptian people. But we have not proceeded with the delivery of certain military systems, and our support will depend upon Egypt’s progress in pursuing a democratic path. 
            I know that some now criticize the action in Libya as an object lesson. They point to problems that the country now confronts – a democratically-elected government struggling to provide security; armed groups, in some places extremists, ruling parts of a fractured land – and argue that any intervention to protect civilians is doomed to fail. No one is more mindful of these problems than I am, for they resulted in the death of four outstanding U.S. citizens who were committed to the Libyan people, including Ambassador Chris Stevens – a man whose courageous efforts helped save the city of Benghazi. But does anyone truly believe that the situation in Libya would be better if Qadhafi had been allowed to kill, imprison, or brutalize his people into submission? It is far more likely that without international action, Libya would now be engulfed in civil war and bloodshed.
            In Kenya, we’ve seen terrorists target innocent civilians in a crowded shopping mall. In Pakistan, nearly 100 people were recently killed by suicide bombers outside a church. In Iraq, killings and car bombs continue to be a horrific part of life. Meanwhile, al Qaeda has splintered into regional networks and militias, which has not carried out an attack like 9/11, but does pose serious threats to governments, diplomats, businesses and civilians across the globe. 
Israeli-Palestinian Peace Process
            I have made clear that the United States will never compromise our commitment to Israel’s security, nor our support for its existence as a Jewish state. Earlier this year, in Jerusalem, I was inspired by young Israelis who stood up for the belief that peace was necessary, just, and possible, and I believe there is a growing recognition within Israel that the occupation of the West Bank is tearing at the democratic fabric of the Jewish state. But the children of Israel have the right to live in a world where the nations assembled in this body fully recognize their country, and unequivocally reject those who fire rockets at their homes or incite others to hate them.
            Likewise, the United States remains committed to the belief that the Palestinian people have a right to live with security and dignity in their own sovereign state. On the same trip, I had the opportunity to meet with young Palestinians in Ramallah whose ambition and potential are matched by the pain they feel in having no firm place in the community of nations. They are understandably cynical that real progress will ever be made, and frustrated by their families enduring the daily indignity of occupation. But they recognize that two states is the only real path to peace: because just as the Palestinian people must not be displaced, the state of Israel is here to stay.
            The time is now ripe for the entire international community to get behind the pursuit of peace. Already, Israeli and Palestinian leaders have demonstrated a willingness to take significant political risks. President Abbas has put aside efforts to short-cut the pursuit of peace and come to the negotiating table. Prime Minister Netanyahu has released Palestinian prisoners, and reaffirmed his commitment to a Palestinian state. Current talks are focused on final status issues of borders and security, refugees and Jerusalem.
            Now the rest of us must also be willing to take risks. Friends of Israel, including the United States, must recognize that Israel’s security as a Jewish and democratic state depends upon the realization of a Palestinian state. Arab states – and those who have supported the Palestinians – must recognize that stability will only be served through a two-state solution with a secure Israel. All of us must recognize that peace will be a powerful tool to defeat extremists, and embolden those who are prepared to build a better future. Moreover, ties of trade and commerce between Israelis and Arabs could be an engine of growth and opportunity at a time when too many young people in the region are languishing without work. So let us emerge from the familiar corners of blame and prejudice, and support Israeli and Palestinian leaders who are prepared to walk the difficult road to peace.

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