Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani at the U.N. General Assembly: Three Takeaways

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Frank Franklin II / AP

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani addresses the U.N. General Assembly in New York City on Sept. 24, 2013

Iran’s new President Hassan Rouhani made his long-awaited debut on the world stage when he delivered his address late Tuesday afternoon before the U.N. General Assembly. Rouhani’s demagogic predecessor, former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, had cemented his global reputation on the floor of the U.N.’s largest chamber through tirades that, like clockwork, triggered walkouts by Western and Israeli delegations. While the Israelis were predictable no-shows this time, the U.S. was represented by its deputy ambassador to the U.N. — a marked improvement in attendance from previous years.

Rouhani’s speech itself was not memorable oratory. The new Iranian President had to toe a very fine line between sounding the right bullish notes for a domestic audience — as well as for his country’s Ayatullah-led political establishment — and making conciliatory gestures to an international community eager for Tehran to arrest its eight-year drift into isolation. There has been genuine optimism surrounding Rouhani’s new Administration and hope for a mending of ties with Washington, which would also see a loosening of stifling sanctions at home. But it’s too early to tell whether Rouhani’s remarks were the first cautious steps forward toward diplomatic rapprochement. Here are three main takeaways from his speech:

1. There’s No Nuclear Resolution in Sight
Rouhani reiterated the Islamic Republic’s unchanged talking point — uttered many times by Ahmadinejad — that Iran has no interest in pursuing nuclear weapons and that it poses no threat to the world. That’s a position some countries — the U.S. and Israel in particular — regard skeptically, and one can only wonder what new prop hawkish Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will produce to illustrate Iranian perfidy when he delivers his own U.N. General Assembly speech on Oct. 1.

(MORE: Forget the Handshake. Here Are Iran President Rouhani’s Real Challenges)

Rouhani said that he hoped his government and Washington “can arrive at a framework to manage our differences,” but offered little indication what concessions both sides would need to make in order to arrive even at such a “framework.” He appeared to dismiss the suspicion placed on Iran’s program as that of “warmongering pressure groups” — a reference, in part, to neo-conservative circles in Washington that have called for military strikes and regime change in Tehran. That may seem like something of a dodge, but it reveals an argument these more “moderate” Iranians may continue to deploy: pointing out that, while Washington fumes, the American public has less interest in hostilities with Iran, much like its considerable opposition to attacking Syria. It’s a big departure from simply lambasting the Great Satan.

The most encouraging sign on the nuclear front is that both Obama and Rouhani have entrusted negotiations to their foremost diplomats — U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif. The latter has spent much of his career in the U.S. and is a serious, much respected negotiator (see my profile of him here). There’s a lot of work ahead before a deal can be reached, but if the current cast can’t get it done, then it’s hard to imagine who else can.

2. The Spirit of the Revolution Be Upon You
The Islamic Republic, as its own diplomats readily admit, is an ideological state, steeped in a three-decade-old blend of Shi‘ite theology and revolutionary, leftist jargon. Though wearing the turban of a cleric, Rouhani wouldn’t have been out of place in an American graduate-student seminar as he trotted out lines on the prevailing dominant “discourse” in international politics, the “hegemonic” ambitions of the global North and the fallacy of “core-periphery” binaries. It’s language dear to the regime and Supreme Leader Ayatullah Ali Khamenei, who struck similar chords in his address a year ago at a gathering of the Non-Aligned Movement in Tehran. But now that the West has been made aware of the “structural violence” — Rouhani’s term — its sanctions exact on Iranian society, will it have a change of heart? Don’t look to Gramsci for an answer.

3. Rhetoric Matters
While the substance of Rouhani’s speech may not have surprised many, there was evidence of a more conciliatory tone. Criticism of Israel didn’t involve reference to the “Zionist enemy,” let alone any trace of Ahmadinejad’s more reprehensible diatribes on the nature of the Holocaust. More intriguingly, Rouhani repeated throughout his remarks two phrases that had appeared in President Obama’s speech earlier in the day: invoking both the importance of “mutual respect,” while also insisting that the age of “zero-sum games” in geopolitics has come to an end. Obama and Rouhani may have used these two phrases at crossed purposes, especially in the “zero-sum” case — Iran chastising the U.S. for contemplating unilateral action in the Middle East; the U.S. bridling at Iranian support of a Syrian regime that’s grimly fighting to the bitter end. But they are clearly hearing each other. Now, one wonders when they will actually start to talk.

MORE: Obama and Rouhani: A Handshake that Could Shake the World

57 comments
shapiro.len
shapiro.len

adolf hitler-   we want no czechs.   at Munich,1938.

Narjes Gh
Narjes Gh

All over the world, National Opposition is supported by the people. The Syrian Opposition is backed, supported by Al- Qaeda and Al- Nusra Front, is this a a revolution for democracy or terrorism ... Tell the truth!

mrjoco69
mrjoco69

@TIME @TIMEWorld Interesting development, I believe that Iran says the truth stating that it has no intention to develop a nuclear bomb.

Josh Hernandez
Josh Hernandez

why can we do what the founding fathers intended the usa to do and just stay out of everyones business, isolationism work very well for us

Huzaifa Albaker
Huzaifa Albaker

Raise ur voice, We as free Syrians support u brothers

AjaxLessome
AjaxLessome

Rouhani is a master of nuclear deception whose strategy is to get sanctions lifted while achieving the nuclear weapons goal to which he, Khamenei, and the rest of Iran’s Revolutionary elite have been committed to for decades. To do that, he will offer enough in the way of nuclear concessions to stretch out nuclear negotiations into next year while insisting on the right to enrichment.There will be no change in Iran’s posture, either on nuclear issues or on regional issues. President Rouhani’s speech should disabuse us of the notion that we can find an understanding with him on the strength of his supposed moderation. There is no moderation – and the sooner Western leaders acknowledge that, the better.If Rouhani's intent is to pursue meaningful reform, he need to take steps towards improving basic human rights, freedom of speech, freeing all political prisoners, and halting public executions could be a start. Stopping the enrichment of uranium and opening the nuclear sites for inspection would also demonstrate good will towards the international community.If you want to see the real Rouhani, check out www.hassan-rouhani.info to see what I mean. The only real long term solution to Iran is regime change at the ballot box

Philip Dias
Philip Dias

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was so much funnier to listen too. Without him and Qaddafi, the UN is so boring...hehe

Karl Leung
Karl Leung

Same goes the other way. Read up on Iran's history with the West and you'll see why.

جمال محمود
جمال محمود

I don't know why nothing written about sudan and the government killed people who demonstrated against the poor and hugger

Alvaro Sevilla
Alvaro Sevilla

This Priest and Presidente want to change for peace, at the sight of this declaration he want to improve of Iranian people life. Get away from here money worshippers

RamondeJsPolank
RamondeJsPolank

SANTIAGO,DR.—President Hassan Rouhani of the Islamic Republic of Iran seems ready to open his arms to reconciliation upon further Sanction-nuclear proliferation talk. Rouhani may suggest a language that has not been spoken when it comes to Iran nuclear program—ready to allow the international community to enter questioning sites. If sincere, there could be a beneficial line the United States  may be able to explore limiting Iran capacity to develop such weapons and bringing the sanction to an end.

 

ShamsAci
ShamsAci

War mongering countries lose their reputation as countries as well as nations whose ultimate destiny is ruin as per history records.

Abakhtiari
Abakhtiari

It's a ridiculous phobia. Yes it could be very simple, Iranian people have selected a moderate president, my president, and now its time to negotiation. Very simple very fast. Why a civilized man should avoid of talking. President Obama, fortunately,  showed his interest and some radical people should respect these two moderate presidents compromises on their nations benefits. Do not worry, it's already done :D just adoption! you should learn adoption.

JJGross
JJGross

Yes Iran is no threat, other than bombing the Jewish center in Buenos Aires, murdering US marines in Lebanon, training and arming Hizubullah and Hamas, actively running the sadistic Syrian army, murdering US personnel and Sunni Muslims in Iraq, they are just a bunch of sweet teddy bears in turbans.

harbinger
harbinger

By 'warmongering pressure groups', Rouhani meant AIPAC and not the neo-conservatives. The author of the article quite obviously knew that but like the many other mainstream news journalists chooses to avoid the 800 pound gorilla in the room. The neo-cons and congress take their marching orders from AIPAC and netanyahu when it comes to american foreign policy in the middle east. FACT.

Phil Smith
Phil Smith

Never tried Iranian takeaway . First time for everything I suppose :)

applefellup
applefellup

America, stop thinking for yourself and listen to Israel, if you know what's good for yourself.

deksoftwareint
deksoftwareint

It seems as though liberals and gullible Americans are being fooled by Rohani's mask of deception. The peace loving Iran that Rohani wants us to believe exists has sent thousands of soldiers to Syria to help massacre innocent men, women, and children and has armed Hezbollah with more than 50,000 missiles which are aimed at Israeli cities.

The "peace loving" Iran is responsible for the deaths of hundreds of American soldiers in Iraq and the wounding of thousands of American soldiers, many of whom had their arms and legs blown off with explosive devices sent to Iraq by Iran who trained Iraqi's on how to murder and maim American soldiers

The "peace loving" Iran has tried to overthrow the governments in Jordan, Bahrain, and Saudi Arabia with acts of terrorism.

The "peace loving" Iran tried to assassinate the Saudi ambassador at a restaurant in Washington and the 'peace loving" Iran blew up the Jewish cultural center in Argentina as well as the Israeli embassy in Argentina and killed and wounded more than five hundred Jews, and has attacked Israeli and Jewish targets around the world for the past twenty years.

I hope that our government, who appears to be rushing to have an agreement with Iran will not enter into any agreement that allows Iran to stall for time so they complete their plans for a nuclear weapon. No one wants war but allowing a terrorist regime to have nuclear weapons would be a disaster for the entire world.

JehudahBen-Israel
JehudahBen-Israel

If you are not a threat to humanity, what is it that you do sending terror cells to India, Thailand, Cyprus, Bulgaria, Argentina and beyond, instructing them to mass murder innocent people?


And, if you are not a threat, why have you situated your front troops in the form of the likes of Hizballah and Hamas to face and attack perfectly legitimate UN member states, e.g. Israel?


And, of course, why are you preparing long rage missiles? Against whom are you going to use them, since they are not even designed for defense purposes? And, why is it that, according to the IAEA, you are in the advanced stages of the development of nuclear military weapons?


Whom are you going to THREATEN with these weapons, and why...??!!

Luffy
Luffy

Let's look at the new president how to get along with neighbouring countries.

RMCSret
RMCSret

@TIME @TIMEWorld The speech resonated but it may just be a delaying tactic for Iran's. End game. I doubt they will stop nuke build out.

JehudahBen-Israel
JehudahBen-Israel

The latest act of charm, indeed the whole offensive presently acted on world stages, is, clearly, designed to retain Iran's capability to develop nuclear weapons, which it has not stopped for even one day, while at the same time unload the economic sanctions imposed on it by the international community.


If we are to be fooled by the acting on stage to believe that this is reality, we may end up paying dearly for our naivete.


Hence, while the US may pursue diplomatic means, the US must also be prepared to exhibit a credible intent to act militarily and economically in order to achieve its goals and the goals of the entire international community: a nuclear free Islamist Iran.


P.S. It is sad that Mr. Obama has caused America not only to be viewed abroad as a paper tiger, but at home as well. Let us be optimistic and hope Mr. Obama follows reason rather than the ideological precepts acquired during his tenure at the Rev. J. Wright University of Chicago...

SusanaMNK
SusanaMNK

@TIME @TIMEWorld A snake trying to seduce its prey. Are they still hanging people,women and youngsters?

shapiro.len
shapiro.len

@Josh Hernandez 

read how well it worked in the 1930s and led to the SECOND WORLD WAR

harbinger
harbinger

@JJGross Yeah, Iran is definitely a threat, but not as big a threat to world peace in comparison to AIPAC and the continued instability bought about by the 4 decade long occupation and subjugation of Palestine.

RamonRoman
RamonRoman

@JJGross Is Israel a threat? Is the USA a threat? following your train of thought let's see: bombing the Palestinian any time they want, or when they, the jewish state, consider necessary to castigate those bad Palestinians. Bombing part of Syria with an stupid excuse. Bombing Iraq adducing the threat of nuclear facilities. Ah, speaking about killing Marines, remember, or have you read, mr gross about the killing fields of the USS LIBERTY? Weren't they American Marines?  How about your country training some ugly combatants around the world for the right price? How about the Americans training and arming the " FREEDOM FIGHTERS" in Afghanistan that later on they transformed themselves in the AlQaeda freedom fighters? Oh YEAH, MR GROSS, YOUR COUNTRY, ISRAEL AND THE AMERICANS, ARE JUST A BUNCH OF SWEET TEDDY BEARS SURROUNDED BY THE HALOES OF SUPER HEROES AND JUSTICE FIGHTERS.

RamonRoman
RamonRoman

@applefellup They are listening, they are listening! Why all the vetoes in the UN condemning the Israeli? Why the yearly 6 billion dollars? You see, they are listening, but in a sense is becoming clear that this listening is hurting a lot the country that is listening.

RamonRoman
RamonRoman

@JehudahBen-Israel HUSH, HUSH, mr jehuda, don't open your PANDORA BOX,  DON'T YOU KNOW THAT YOUR COUNTRY IS NOT THE MOST MORAL COUNTRY IN THE WORLD?   Since when mr jehuda, in this species of ours, so peaceful, so loving, only some countries, yours included, have the right to possess any type of offensive weapons?

I don't want to elaborate with facts with people like you, because you resort to lies and distortion of history. I can prove it to you when you answered one of my posts with a total distortion.

harbinger
harbinger

@JehudahBen-Israel 

The hasbara is strong in you i see.

Why does israel send terror cells to iran to assassinate iranian scientists?

Why is israel occupying and practising apartheid in the west bank and have made an open air prison out of gaza? When will palestine get its independence and when will israel stop annexing more land meant for an independent palestinian state?

What right does isreal have to keep 200+ nukes and iran isnt allowed to have a civilian nuclear program?

Why is iran preparing long range missiles you ask? Every country has the right to arm themselves. Iran hasnt attacked a neighbouring country for a long time. Yet israel is in perpertual occupation of Palestinian land and subjugating an entire population to apartheid like conditions....

Your post reeks of utter hypocrisy .... 


Abakhtiari
Abakhtiari

@LuffyIt will, We are fine with our neighbouring countries, unlike Isreal. 

RamonRoman
RamonRoman

@JehudahBen-Israel

Israel Mr jehuda, it is much, much better to be known as a paper tiger,  A PACIFIST, instead of a president that wants to find a solution always wth the use of force instead of using the force of reason. It is not a surprise for me, or for that matter for anybody to know the way you think and your country think. Instead of using the reason through the UN, all you do is ....on the world and invade and bomb anyone that you consider a nuisance, or a threat to your hegemony. There was a monster, not long ago, that used to think the way you think now, but fortunately was defeated in 1945.

   The UN created you, and now you don't even recognized the UN because it doesn't follow your hysterical game.

RamonRoman
RamonRoman

@SusanaMNK @TIME @TIMEWorld miss Susie, what is it the intellectual gain with one liners? Have you studied history with one liners? You are like the little girl that uses a sling shot and break the window of a house that is supposed to belong to a criminal.

Ahu
Ahu

@harbinger

you dumbos. you know the conflict goes both ways. there isn't one side that's taking advantage of the other. Israel could remove Palestine from the planet if they wanted to. if anything Israel is showing restraint from the annoying rabble that constantly attacks it's boarders.

Abakhtiari
Abakhtiari

@SusanaMNK @Nomiswalcal @TIME @TIMEWorldIt is very simple, China is not threat because of hanging people, The US because of Vietnam and Iraq, Isreal Because of Palstinan, and bla bla bla. Just Iran! because Isreal is already afraid!