Understanding Rouhani’s UNGA Speech

by Jasmin Ramsey

Yesterday Princeton’s Kevan Harris explained to me that Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani tried to “expand to the international sphere his domestic election rhetoric about hope and moderation versus fear and extremism” with his speech at this years United Nations General Assembly. “He had to check off a few of the usual boxes,” noted the Iran scholar, including

Palestinian rights, the unevenness of geopolitical power, the declining utility of unilateral military force, and a nod to the Leader. But he also put forth a Khatami-like idea for a new campaign of multilateral cooperation: the WAVE. As is becoming clearer with each week, Rouhani is a politician who balances his actions and statements in between previous Iranian approaches.

Although I couldn’t fit this particular quote in my report yesterday, the Atlantic Council’s Yasmin Alem told me that Rouhani was covering the bases he didn’t cover back at home in his Washington Post op-ed last week, which was aimed at an American audience. In other words, one reason why Rouhani’s speech was nowhere near as conciliatory as President Obama’s speech may be because the Iranian president was in large part addressing his supporters and adversaries at home .

I also just spoke with independent scholar and LobeLog contributor Farideh Farhi, currently in Tehran, who kindly provided a sampling of some Iranian reactions:

Political Elites:

The reaction to Rouhani’s speech here has been mixed. I heard one person say that if Rouhani was going to be so timid, he shouldn’t have gone to New York so soon. Others expressed unhappiness with the stilted language of the speech and the disconnect between the harsher first part and the more conciliatory second part. But there are others who are sympathetic to the balance Rouhani was trying to strike. [Political analyst] Sadegh Zibakalam, for instance, said Rouhani “did not do what he wanted but what he could.” The establishment, meanwhile, has been supportive. Former Revolutionary Guard commander Yahya Rahim Safavi called the speech “intelligent.” The head of the Judiciary Amoli Larijani called the speech “polite and logical.”

Average Iranians:

Among the more ordinary folks I have met I would say that they were hoping for more  — at least in terms of Rouhani’s performance — particularly after Obama’s carefully crafted, conciliatory, and nicely delivered speech. But in some ways there is also a feeling that going slower is better as it not only allows for a more enduring management of tensions between the US and Iran, but also better management of popular expectations in Iran.

Farideh’s Take:

My own take was that the speech was not the best Rouhani could have given. It was not an easy speech to listen to, was not well written, and addressed too many angles, probably because it was written by too many people. But on the nuclear front, it reiterated his government’s commitment to the resolution of the nuclear issue and acknowledged President Obama’s conciliatory tone. Coming on the heels of the more important decision by Secretary John Kerry to meet with Foreign Minister Javad Zarif within the P5+1 ministerial frame, it was definitely an adequate speech.

Photo Credit: ISNA/Erfan Khoshkhoo

Jasmin Ramsey

Jasmin Ramsey is a journalist based in Washington, DC.


One Comment

  1. Adequate or not, the point was put across to obtain a new dialog. There was/is no way to appease every faction involved, especially in one single speech. This is a start, hopefully, it will lead to positive results? Also, we are not privy to anything that may or may not have moved along behind the scenes. Of course, now we shall be inundated with the war chants from the Israeli/neocon cabal, because then Israel will become center stage again, but not in any manner that they will want. One can only guess what the M.E. would be like today, if Israel hadn’t invaded and occupied the land they call Israel.

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