Iranian President Hassan Rohani’s offer to participate in nuclear negotiations stops short of halting his nation’s uranium enrichment program as demanded by countries that imposed sanctions crippling its economy.
“We are ready to engage in serious and substantial talks without wasting time,” Rohani said yesterday in his first news conference as president two days after being sworn in. He offered no new proposals and called on the U.S. to take “practical steps” at the start. “We seek a win-win game and this is possible,” he said.
Rohani, who replaced Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as president, won in June after promising to end Iran’s isolation and improve the country’s economy, which has seen oil revenue drop by 50 percent under U.S. and European Union sanctions. Those countries and Israel say Iran is pursuing the capacity to develop a nuclear weapon. Iran says its nuclear program is for civilian purposes.
“Iran’s peaceful nuclear program is a national issue,” Rohani said. “We will not give up the rights of the Iranian people.”
The final authority on the nuclear issue is Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Although Rohani, a former nuclear negotiator, has said he will make it a priority to get the sanctions against Iran lifted, its enrichment program remains a sticking point.
“Rohani’s pronouncements were a reminder that Iran’s bottom-line positions -- insistence on the right to develop a peaceful nuclear energy program, including the right to an indigenous enrichment capacity -- almost certainly will not budge in the foreseeable future,” Ali Vaez, a senior analyst at the International Crisis Group in Washington, said in an e-mail.
Five rounds of negotiations starting in April 2012 failed to reduce the gulf between Iran and six powers, made up of the U.S., Russia, China, the U.K., France and Germany.
In a statement released after Rohani’s Aug. 4 inauguration address, the Obama administration said it would be “a willing partner” if Iran decides “to engage substantively and seriously” in honoring its international obligations and works toward a peaceful solution on the nuclear issue.
In his news conference, Rohani criticized the U.S. government’s dual-track policy of diplomacy and sanctions.
“We don’t like the carrots-and-sticks approach,” Rohani said. “Unfortunately the warmongering pressure groups in the U.S. are against constructive dialogue.”
Last week, the U.S. House of Representatives passed new sanctions which, if signed into law, would make it even more difficult for Iran to access foreign oil revenue.
A bipartisan group of 76 senators urged President Barack Obama in an Aug. 2 letter to “toughen sanctions and reinforce the credibility of our option to use military force” at the same time as the U.S. explores a diplomatic solution.
“Some combination of diplomacy and sanctions is the way to get Iran to take concrete steps away from their nuclear program,” Representative Charlie Dent, a Pennsylvania Republican, said in a telephone interview. “We want the complete cessation of their nuclear program. We want them to pull back completely.”
The groups that advocate greater pressure on Iran say they have no intention of slowing their efforts.
“Sanctions are the reason Rohani got elected,” said Mark Dubowitz, the executive director of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a Washington group that supports stronger sanctions. “Our research shows that sanctions have provided the U.S. with enhanced leverage that Iran is taking very seriously.”
The U.S. has an interest in ending the standoff over Iran’s nuclear program and Rohani’s presidency offers the best chance, said Lawrence Korb, a former assistant secretary of defense and a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress.
“The worse thing you can do is increase the sanctions because that will undermine Rohani,” Korb said. “Rohani’s election gives us an opportunity to make a deal that we can all live with.”