Iranian President Rouhani’s Record Should Calm Skeptics, As Britain Moves to Re-Open Embassy Pt.1

Gareth Porter: Rouhani has demonstrated that he is willing to thaw relations with the West and his past nuclear energy policies support his ambitions


Iranian President Hassan Rouhani's record on nuclear policy should calm skeptics, according to historian and investigative journalist Gareth Porter.

“Specifically in terms of what he actually did, which we need to be paying attention to, we have to understand that in 2003 Iran's nuclear policy was really in a terrible mess,” said Porter.

Porter said that lax oversight of the nuclear program during that time and unclear policy objectives allowed for unauthorized research related to nuclear weapons.

“And so some of these organizations and individuals, individual researchers, were in fact carrying out research, research projects that related to nuclear weapons,” said Porter.  “And although there must have been some vague awareness that this was going on, it's clear that the central government, the president, and Rouhani himself as secretary of the Supreme National Security Council didn't really know precisely what was going on.”

Porter also said that Rouhani has increased Iran’s transparency with the International Atomic Energy Agency, and negotiated voluntary cessation of enrichment with the U.K, Germany, and France.

“Most importantly, what he did was to call a halt, order all of the researchers to stop working on anything having to do with nuclear weapons—basically sent out a circular saying, we want to know exactly what's been going on, anything that has been going on with regard to nuclear activities, and any activities that are ongoing have to halt. So that was an extremely important initiative. That's something that has not been registered at all in the news media,” said Porter.

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Story Transcript

JESSICA DESVARIEUX, TRNN PRODUCER: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Jessica Desvarieux in Baltimore.

It’s official: the U.K. will restore some diplomatic relations with Iran and said that they are moving forward on opening their embassy in Tehran. The U.K. shut its embassy in November 2011 after it was attacked by protesters. It then ordered the closure of the Iranian embassy in London. This is just another development in the thawing of relations between the West and Iran, especially in light of President Obama’s phone conversation with Iran’s new president, Hassan Rouhani, something that hasn’t happened since 1979.

Now joining us to put all this in context is Gareth Porter. He is a historian and investigative journalist on U.S. and foreign policy, and he writes regularly for the Inter Press Service on U.S. policy towards Iraq and Iran.

Thanks for joining us, Gareth.

GARETH PORTER, INVESTIGATIVE JOURNALIST: Hi, Jessica. How are you?

DESVARIEUX: So, Gareth, many pundits have expressed skepticism about the so-called charm offensive that President Rouhani’s been offering up. What do you make of this? What are Rouhani’s intentions in light of his past record?

PORTER: First of all, the news media have in fact, as you said, treated Rouhani as a kind of unknown quantity and questioned whether he can really be relied upon, whether he can deliver, whether he has the trust of the supreme leader, whether he has a mandate. All of these questions seem to be swirling around Rouhani. And the tone and the content of the analysis and commentary has been more or less along the lines that we don’t really know enough about Rouhani to have any firm grounding in making any assessment of what he’s likely to do.

And, in fact, that is where I think the news media have gone quite wrong in their treatment of Hassan Rouhani since he’s been elected president of Iran, the reason being that he does in fact have a very well documented record specifically on the whole question of Iran’s nuclear policy, because he was in charge of the nuclear file from 2003 to 2005, and that was, of course, an extremely crucial period for the development of Iran’s nuclear policy. And Rouhani did a superb job, from any assessment, any objective assessment of his work, on that issue during those two, two and a half years.

And so I think what we really need to do is revisit that record. And that’s what I’ve just done in a piece that I am publishing with Al Jazeera English this week.

DESVARIEUX: Okay. And can you lay out a little bit more about why you think the media, and especially Israel–we know Netanyahu has come out and said, of course, that, you know, we should be very skeptical and things of that nature. Why are we getting such backlash from the press as well as Israel?

PORTER: Well, the first part of the question being why is the press going so wrong on this issue of Rouhani and his record. I think the answer to that is quite simple and straightforward. The news media has no incentive, the commercial news media basically has no incentive to cover this story in depth. And so, as usual, it’s sort of skipping over the surface. And the surface really consists of the scuttlebutt within the political elite in the United States and among the policymakers who are willing to talk to the press. They are going to express a degree of skepticism, a degree of caution about Rouhani instead of going into the facts about what he actually did, what he has done as the secretary of the Supreme National Security Council in Iran, as well as the person in charge of Iran’s nuclear file.

Now, specifically in terms of what he actually did, which we need to be paying attention to, we have to understand that in 2003 Iran’s nuclear policy was really in a terrible mess. And it got into that mess because of a couple of factors. One, there had been a certain laxity in the scrutiny, the control of not only the military-industrial complex but the organization for atomic energy, the organization that actually handled the nuclear program directly for Iran. And so all of those institutions that had really quite a great deal of freedom to carry out actions which were not authorized in many cases by the central government–in the case of the military-industrial complex, the military-industrial research organizations, there was a great deal of debate and discussion about the whole question of what Iran’s nuclear policy really was. I mean, the Iranian government had said, we are against–the president of Iran had said, we’re against having nuclear weapons, we’re not interested in nuclear weapons, that they are not consistent with Islamic jurisprudence. But there had been a debate within the government and, as I say, among the military research community about what that really meant in terms of a capability for a nuclear program and even for nuclear weapons. And some were arguing that having a capability meant–a nuclear capability meant that you knew how to make a nuclear weapon even if you had no intention of actually building a weapon.

And so some of these organizations and individuals, individual researchers, were in fact carrying out research, research projects that related to nuclear weapons. And although there must have been some vague awareness that this was going on, it’s clear that the central government, the president, and Rouhani himself as secretary of the Supreme National Security Council didn’t really know precisely what was going on. They had no idea of the extent of it.

So what Rouhani did when he came in was to try to reassert the good faith of Iran with regard to its no nuclear weapons policy and to try to convince the West that it was serious about that. And first of all he opened up a new policy with regard to the International Atomic Energy Agency of complete forthrightness, of reporting everything that had been done in the past and that was being done currently, turned a real page in that regard. Secondly, he started negotiating with the European three–the U.K., Germany, and France–on a long-term agreement, and in principle agreed that Iran would stop, at least for some period of time, voluntarily, its enrichment activities. And thirdly, and most importantly, what he did was to call a halt, order all of the researchers to stop working on anything having to do with nuclear weapons, basically sent out a circular saying, we want to know exactly what’s been going on, anything that has been going on with regard to nuclear activities, and any activities that are ongoing have to halt. So that was an extremely important initiative. That’s something that has not been registered at all in the news media.

DESVARIEUX: Okay. Let’s continue this conversation in part two of our discussion. We’ll talk more about domestic politics in Iran and the relationship between President Rouhani and the supreme leader, Khomeini.

Alright. Well, thank you so much for joining us, Gareth.

PORTER: Thank you, Jessica.

DESVARIEUX: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.

End

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