Hasan Rouhani, Iran’s new president, is going to be in New York this week, and the dips and pundits are very excited. They think there’s a chance for a breakthrough, maybe even two or three breakthroughs:
● A deal on the Iranian nuclear weapons program;
● Progress on the Syrian deal;
● A great leap forward in American-Iranian “relations.”
The last would produce some sort of “normalization,” involving an exchange of diplomatic representations, at a maximum the restoration of full relations for the first time since the seizure of American hostages in Tehran in the early months of the Islamic Revolution. Even a “chance encounter” between Rouhani and Obama will be treated as a major event, and you can expect to read language like “for the first time in decades, American and Iranian leaders met face to face.”
That language is false. There have been myriad face-to-face encounters, and other claims about Rouhani are also false. A recent puff piece in the New York Times summed up the conventional wisdom:
Long known as fiercely intelligent, he became renowned after the revolution for his ability to navigate a system dominated by ideologues, building consensus among many opposing forces. Those close to him describe Mr. Rouhani as the golden boy of the Islamic republic’s close-knit group of leaders and a deal maker who has had a direct hand in most of Iran’s major foreign policy decisions over the past three decades.
He was one of three Iranian officials to meet with the former national security adviser Robert McFarlane when he secretly visited Tehran in 1986 to arrange the arms-for-hostages deal that would later erupt into the Iran-contra scandal.
Golden Boy is the man of the week. But I don’t think he met McFarlane. At the time, he was an obscure clerical nothingburger. I believe that the key Iranian at the 1986 meetings was Mohammad Javad Larijani, the eldest of five very powerful brothers. And M.J. Larijani has continued to function as a back channel to the White House; I’m quite confident that he has met with high-ranking Obama officials in the Middle East and in Geneva.
I wonder if any of the journalists will ask Mr. Rouhani how he liked the key-shaped cake that McFarlane et. al. brought him…maybe they will, expecting him to come out with a witty line. They are less likely to quote one of his public statements about the United States:
“We need to express ‘Death to America’ with action. Saying it is easy.”
Nor do I expect to hear a lot about Rouhani’s self-satisfied discussion of how he tricked the West into thinking that Iran had suspended its nuclear enrichment efforts, when it was actually speeded up.
There is more.