Iranian President Hassan Rouhani is serious about peace. But to achieve it, he and President Barack Obama must deal with hard-liners in Tehran, Tel Aviv and Washington.
Rouhani was the most moderate candidate in the recent Iranian presidential race, which he won on June 14, pledging to settle the nuclear dispute with Washington and thereby end the sanctions that are crippling his country. Rouhani has strong credentials on the nuclear issue.
From 2003 to 2005, he was chief nuclear negotiator in the government of the reformist President Mohammad Khatami and led the negotiations with Britain, France and Germany that resulted in the 2004 Paris Agreement. This committed Iran to suspend its uranium enrichment program and allow the International Atomic Energy Agency to carry out the most extensive inspection of any nuclear program in its entire history. But instead of rewarding Iran, the West demanded more concessions, and the agreement fell apart.
To the chagrin of his conservative and radical foes at home, Rouhani has completely revamped Iran's nuclear negotiation team, bringing in a moderate, highly skilled team. And he has appointed the esteemed U.S.-educated diplomat, Mohammad Javad Zarif, as the foreign minister who will lead the nuclear negotiations.
Both Rouhani and Zarif played key roles in the "grand bargain" proposal Iran submitted to the George W. Bush administration in May 2003 that addressed all major areas of conflict between the two countries, including Iran's nuclear program, the war in Iraq and Iran's support for Hamas, Islamic Jihad and Hezbollah. Iran even offered to indirectly recognize Israel. But the Bush-Cheney administration rejected the proposal, preferring to demonize Iran.
In his recent visit to the United States, Rouhani declared that he wants to resolve the nuclear dispute in three to six months. But it won't be easy.
Iranian hard-liners have harshly criticized his overture to America. On his return to Tehran, Rouhani was greeted by thousands of jubilant people, but also by those who threw shoes and eggs at him. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stands in the way, as well. He has dismissed Rouhani's olive branch and would like to prevent any nuclear compromise between Iran and the United States.
And in Washington, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee and its supporters on Capitol Hill, along with such hawks as Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., are gearing up for a major fight with Obama to prevent any rapprochement between Iran and the United States.
Obama must fight back and not waste this historic opportunity for resolving the decades-old dispute between the two nations. If Rouhani can deal with his hard-liners in Tehran, Obama needs to be resolute with the hard-liners in Tel Aviv and Washington.
Then peace will finally be a real possibility.
Muhammad Sahimi, a professor at the University of Southern California, is the editor of the website Iran News & Middle East Reports. He wrote this for Progressive Media Project.
Distributed by MCT Information Services