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Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani And History’s Echoes: A Tale Of Two Speeches

October 2nd, 2013

Only three months after being elected as president of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Hassan Rouhani addressed the U.N. General Assembly, in the process arousing once moribund hope that the Iranian nuclear issue can be resolved peacefully. In his speech delivered on September 24, 2013, Rouhani echoed many of the same words that had been uttered before by his bombastic predecessor, Ahmadinejad; Iran’s nuclear program is entirely peaceful, and exists solely for the purpose of generating electricity, and Iran insists on its “fundamental right” to enrich uranium for “peaceful purposes.” He also repeated the credo that not only Ahmadinejad but more importantly Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Hosseini Khamenei, has often pronounced; the Islamic Republic of Iran does not seek nuclear weapons, and such weaponry violates the fundamental principles of the theocratic state’s governing ideology. With a poise and polish totally foreign to Ahmadinejad, Rouhani has accomplished a truly remarkable rebranding of his nation. Largely through one speech, a vortex of diplomatic processes has been launched, with many pundits expressing optimism about the prospect of a negotiated solution to the Iranian nuclear crisis.

In the wake of the celebratory praise of Rouhani’s speech before the U.N. General Assembly, can he in fact be believed? Is it indeed possible for Iran to have created a largely covert national uranium enrichment program, vast in its infrastructure and cost, but with that same nation possessing only one barely functioning nuclear power reactor at Bushehr, with no additional ones under construction, while simultaneously enduring painful economic sanctions, solely for the purpose of developing electrical power? Time will tell how sincere Rouhani and his master, Ayatollah AliKhamenei, are in their mutual denial of intentions of developing nuclear weapons and claims of desiring  a speedy diplomatic resolution of the crisis. One can hope that Rouhani’s speech manifests a genuine desire to end the grounds for concern about Iran’s nuclear program. However, the history of the last century provides grounds for caution when it comes to deriving the true intentions of a head of state from a policy speech.

On May 21, 1935 the German chancellor and Fuehrer, Adolf Hitler, addressed his nation’s Reichstag, with his words recorded by international journalists. Nazi Germany was in the middle of a vast arms buildup. Before disclosing his true ambition of world conquest, it was vital that international public opinion and politicians in Western Europe and the U.S.  be lulled into a false sense of calm regarding his ultimate intentions. In a brilliant oratorical performance which one American journalist described as one of the most eloquent calls for peace and disarmament ever spoken, Hitler reassured the international audience he was aiming at that his goals were strictly peaceful:”National Socialist Germany wants peace because of its fundamental convictions… Whoever lights the torch of war in Europe can wish for nothing but chaos.”

The world fell for the reassuring words of Adolf Hitler with a suddenness and completeness that is hard to grasp nearly eighty years later. A typical reaction was an editorial which appeared in the Times of London that proclaimed, “It is to be hoped that the speech will be taken everywhere as a sincere and well-considered utterance, meaning precisely what it says.”

Is history repeating itself, or is the totalitarian regime in Iran being truthful in its claims about the pacific orientation of its nuclear project? After Hitler’s peace speech in 1935, those few who publically warned about the true intentions of Nazi Germany, especially Winston Churchill, were denounced as war mongers.  Hopefully, those who have not yet jumped on the Rouhani rebranding bandwagon, and are preaching caution in exploring the possibility that Iran genuinely does not seek to develop nuclear weapons, will be listened to more earnestly than was the case in the 1930s.  In judging Iran and the authentic goals of its leadership, it is acts and deeds, not words, that should serve as the ultimate litmus test regarding Tehran’s true intentions.

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