Analysts have worried since literally the first hours after the election of Iranian president Hassan Rouhani that the revolutionary-era cleric, who ran on a platform more moderate than his fellow regime-approved candidates, would be hamstrung by Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. The Supreme Leader controls Iran’s nuclear policy, and had during the election preemptively banned the eventual winner from making “concessions” to the West.
After Rouhani’s inauguration he sought to assure the West that he was empowered to cut a deal. He told NBC News in a September interview that he had “complete authority” from Khamenei to conduct diplomacy with the West. Statements by Khamenei to the effect that “heroic flexibility” was called for in approaching the West.
Khamenei’s office subsequently clarified that whatever “heroic flexibility” meant – and they published an infographic on the issue – it stopped short of allowing Rouhani to negotiate anything that would implede the “advancement and realization of the Islamic Revolution and System.” Khamenei also personally criticized what optimists had branded a historic phone call between President Barack Obama and Rouhani last week.
The criticism bit, and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif had to walk back the overtures:
Iran’s influential hard-right daily Kayhan reported today that Foreign Minister Javad Zarif has accepted responsibility for missteps during the visit of the Iranian delegation to the UN General Assembly. The first-page article carries huge banner declaring, “Zarif: Rouhani’s Telephone Conversation with Obama and My Long Meeting with Kerry Were Missteps.”…
“(Dr. Zarif) had responded in quite an honest manner that: ‘We (Zarifaf and Rouhani) thought that the talks (with Kerry) and the phone call (with Obama) were within the authority given to us, but it is our understanding that Hazrat Agha (Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei) has criticized us for Dr. Rouhani’s phone conversation with Obama, he regards that as the first misstep, and my long meeting with John Kerry, and he regards it as the other misstep during out trip.’” (Kayhan, 8 October)
Zarif’s admission is likely to deepen fears that Rouhani may have overstated the case when he described his authority to deal with the West on Iran’s nuclear issue.
[Photo: ABCNews / YouTube]