“No more zero-sum game”

Iran relies on cooperation. As a result of sanctions?

All the world talks about thaw, except Netanyahu. He remains true to the picture of Iran as a global threat. In the Iranian President’s speech to the UN General Assembly, the Israeli Prime Minister does not want to recognize a change of course, but only a manover to gain time for the construction of the atomic bomb.

As "hypocritical and cynical" in the face of "the involvement of Iranian forces in the gross murder of innocent civilians in Syria" Netanyahu referred to Rohani’s speech as a "warning". Earlier, the Israeli prime minister had ordered Israeli UN deputies to leave the plenary session and not listen to Rohani. Iran’s new opening for negotiations and cooperation with the West is only a trick and an exchange for Netanyahu.

There are arguments in favor of Netanyahu’s point of view. He has Hezbollah at his doorstep. And Israel does not come off well in Rohani’s speech introduction. When he speaks of the aggressive narrative of the West, of the wrongly conceived mindset of the West in Middle East policy, one knows who is meant in particular, besides the U.S.

Even if the name Israel is not mentioned, it is clear to anyone who reads the speech that Rohani, like his predecessor and like Khomenei, believes that Israel has been an evil in the region since its founding. This is consistent with what Iranian observers, to whom Rohani’s speech was also addressed, expect from him, but only very poorly with the recognition of the State of Israel, which is fundamental to its security policy.

Last but not least, Netanyahu’s dark, narrow view of Iran is also linked to his own political survival. The image of Iran as an enemy is constitutive for his policy. "A bit of an enemy image" This would break the pedestal on which Netanyahu always stands when he is up to his neck in domestic politics.

But: There is much more to be said against Netanyahu’s point of view. Not only that Rohani reiterates that Iran has no interest in building nuclear weapons. That nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction are fundamentally contrary to the country’s ethical and religious foundations. Iran’s nuclear program must be used solely for peaceful purposes, Rohani clearly states:

"Iran’s nuclear program (…) must pursue exclusively peaceful purposes."

What are "reasonable concerns"?

This shows, despite all skepticism about political declarations, that the hurdles for a contradictory, completely different program are set very high and that the legitimacy of the leadership is not independent of this – and not only in the eyes of the Western public.

Rohani speaks of a "national interest". It requires that "we remove any and all reasonable concerns about Iran’s peaceful nuclear program". The wording "reasonable concerns" leaves room for maneuver, even for hawks. Too little concrete, according to the reproaches. The specifics are a matter for the upcoming negotiations, it can be countered.

The second point of Rohani’s speech, which addresses a negotiating ie, concerns uranium enrichment in Iran. Rohani states that Iran has reached an industrial level here and that it would be unrealistic to demand that the country return behind this point. Enrichment to remain in the country, says the president. This contradicts the condition that the West has set so far in the negotiations. There is nothing to be done with sanctions, Rohani said:

It is, therefore, an illusion, and extremely umealistic, to presume that the peaceful nature of the nuclear program of Iran could be ensured through impeding the program via illegitimate preres.

For the Western countries involved in the negotiations, the United States, Great Britain, France and Germany, this is a question of trust, for Rohani it is an offer of cooperation. Rohani and his Auben minister Mohammad-Javad Zarif belong to a different political school than Ahmadinejad. Experts refer to them as "defensive realists".

"Softening" and sanctions

For them, it is not about a zero-sum game, as Rohani also emphasized in his current speech, but about creating a win-win situation in cooperation. The political past of Rohani and Zarif shows that this is not a mere assertion. Zarif was a driving force when Iran cooperated with the U.S. on Afghanistan in 2001. And Rohani, like Zarif, played a rough role in Iran’s negotiating offer to the U.S. two years later, when they signaled concessions to the U.S. on many ies, including recognition of Israel.

Mohammad-Javad Zarif. Photo: Max Talbot-Minkin; License: CC BY 2.0

These points are made by Titra Parsi, a Reuters journalist, whose article uses these examples to counter the thesis that Iranian openness and signals of willingness to negotiate are due to the West’s tough sanctions policy. The will to cooperate on the part of Iran was already clearly evident beforehand.

On the contrary, it is more likely that the Cold War and sanctions policies that began with George W. Bush’s placement of Iran in the axis of evil was initiated, disavowing Iran’s policy of cooperation. There, too, they gradually adopted tougher positions (although it should be noted that Ahmadinejad, too, repeatedly made offers of negotiation).

Whether President Rohani can bring about a change of course in foreign policy depends very much on how the West deals with sanctions in the future. If one believes that only sanctions Iran "softening" and ready for negotiations, so you could exchange very much. It is surely no coincidence that the new aubenpolitische approach in Iran, "heroic flexibility" is called. Pride plays no small role.

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