There’s a myth in the West that if Ahmadinejad’s successor is “reformist” or “moderate,” he would improve Iran’s relations with the world community and potentially help resolve the country’s nuclear standoff. With the disqualification of Hashemi Rafsanjani, a former president who was set to represent the reformist camp in Iran’s June 14 presidential vote, all eyes have turned to former nuclear negotiator Hassan Rouhani. Dubbed as “moderate” by the Western press, some hope Rouhani could be a better partner than Ahmadinejad on the nuclear issue if he wins.
But this is only a pipe dream.
First, the office of the presidency in Iran lacks the authority to decide on major foreign policy issues, especially relating to the country’s nuclear program and relations with the United States. Such key decisions rest with Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and the country’s powerful Revolutionary Guards.
Second, when it comes to Iran’s “right” to develop its nuclear program, both hardliners and reformists are unified – although they advocate different approaches to deal with the West regarding the matter. While hardliners such as Saeed Jalili, Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator and a leading candidate in the upcoming polls, promise no compromise “whatsoever” with the West over the nuclear issue, reformists favor a softer approach and engagement with the West in order to lift sanctions, prevent a military attack, and buy time to further advance Iran’s nuclear technology.
In a recent interview with the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB), Rouhani defended his record as a nuclear negotiator (2003-2005) under the reformist government of President Khatami, rejecting the notion that his team gave any concessions to the West. Instead, he argued, his team used negotiation with European powers as a ploy to avert a military attack and buy time to advance and complete Iran’s nuclear program.
Below is an excerpt from the interview:
The principal issue for us is to change the threat into an opportunity… Our policy… was to defend against threats; to foil America’s plot. Wherever America’s plots are defeated, it’s very pleasant and likable. Our nation rejoices it. What did America want to do? America wanted to take our case to the [UN] Security Council… We wanted to turn this threat into an opportunity; not to let this reach the Security Council; not to let the country fall into a war; not to let the country suffer sanctions… America wanted to impose on us the same catastrophe it inflicted upon Libya. It wanted what we had in nuclear technology not to be completed, and that we surrender what we had already. What we aimed to do was to create a space so that this technology is completed. The day when we invited three European ministers, there were only 10 centrifuges active in Natanz. We weren’t able to produce one gram of UF4 and UF6… The total number of our centrifuges across the country was 150. We wanted to complete all these. We needed time… We didn’t allow Iran to be attacked. In those serious circumstances… when America had just – Bush and the craziness of that neocon government you remember…- invaded Afghanistan and occupied Iraq within three weeks. And they were thinking Iran would be next…