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More Iranian flirting

Tehran’s statements fall within the context of two public relations campaigns directed to two different audiences

Abdulrahman al-Rashed

Published: Updated:

I have read carefully David Ignatius’ article published yesterday in Arabic on Asharq al-Awsat, in which the Washington Post columnist attributed several important statements to Iranian Foreign Affairs Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif.

Tehran’s statements fall within the context of two public relations campaigns directed to two different audiences. The first one tells foreign countries that the agreement with the country is an end to “evil” Iran.

The second one tells the Iranians that they are now closer to achieving the dream of a strong nation.

The truth is, Zarif’s statements are positive. There’s nothing worrying about these statements except that they may not be true!

We can continue to argue about the Iranian sweet talk and intentions until next year when the time comes to reach a permanent agreement on its nuclear program, or we might continue to argue until Barack Obama’s last day as American president.

Golden opportunity

It’s only then that we will know the truth of whether the Iranian regime has really changed from the inside, or whether it’s being deceitful and sees negotiations as a golden opportunity to achieve what it couldn’t do via a confrontation.

There’s no need to argue about the future, but we can outline recent historical events whose witnesses are still alive. Before Hassan Rowhani, we knew of two Iranian presidents who had the same spirit of openness and bright promises.

Before Hassan Rowhani, we knew of two Iranian presidents who had the same spirit of openness and bright promises

Abdulrahman al-Rashed

Hashemi Rafsanjani became president in 1989, and was a strong president for the entire eight years of his rule. Following Saddam Hussein’s defeat, he extended his hand to Gulf countries and announced his country’s reconciliatory intentions.

Saudi Arabia did in fact open its doors for him and signed economic and security agreements with the Islamic republic. We thought that was the end of Iran’s disputes with its Gulf neighbors. Then in 1996, Iran orchestrated attacks in Saudi Arabia.

The most prominent of these explosions was in the city of Khobar where 19 Americans were killed and terrorist cells were arrested in Bahrain. During Rafsanjani’s era, Iran occupied what was left of Abu Musa island, which contains a largely Emirati population. Rafsanjani was later succeeded by Mohammad Khatami.

Humiliated

We celebrated Khatami’s appointment as president. He pledged to alter his country’s policy and to be open towards other countries. He sought to reform relations with Arab and Western countries. But nothing was ever achieved. During his last year as president, he couldn’t even prevent the Iranian intelligence from arresting people who sympathized with him, and he exited the presidency a humiliated man.

Rowhani may be stronger than Khatami and luckier than Rafsanjani. But has he done anything that indicates a change in the Iranian approach and that convinces us of the intents of the collective leadership, the supreme guide and the revolutionary guards?

Rowhani’s promises are a coup against the basis of the philosophy of the founder of Ayatollah Khomeini’s republic, history and people. Are there indications of changes? No! Other than the president’s and the foreign minister’s statements, there’s nothing.

And just to remind you, the number of those who were executed during the era of the smiling Rowhani is more than the number of those executed during that of the grumpy former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Rowhani’s government has executed 16 people of the Baloch opposition without holding real trials. The executions were in response to the recent explosions in the disturbed province of Baluchistan. Iran has also executed four Ahwazi opposition members.

Actions not words

We don’t define people by their statements but by their actions. Late American president Ronald Regan did not embrace Mikhail Gorbachev right after he voiced his reconciliatory intents.

Reagan only welcomed Gorbachev’s initiatives after the latter began implementing his famous campaign of real openness, Perestroika, inside the Soviet Union. His actions were the best proof of his intents to change.

So what has changed in Iran - other than these bright smiles and future promises? Practically, nothing has changed. We actually see that Iran is more ruthless than it ever had been. For the first time ever, it has dared sending revolutionary guards’ troops to publicly fight on someone else’s land. Thousands of these guards are fighting in Syria and managing the war with militias affiliated with them - like Lebanon’s Hezbollah and Iraq’s Leagues of the Righteous.

American worries

Despite that, all we hear from Washington is their worries about al-Qaeda. We are also worried about al-Qaeda. But Iran sends its extremist fighters to Syria and supports them in broad daylight! Even former presidents like Ahmedinejad, Khatami and Rafsanjani did not dare commit such acts. So is it not our right to doubt Rowhani’s promises and intents?

The fact that Zarif told Ignatius that he doesn’t care about Revolutionary Guards Chief Mohammed Ali Jaafari ‘s criticism means we are confronting two options.

The first is the traditional Iranian game in which Zarif is the good cop and Jaafari is the bad one; the second is that Zarif is like Rome’s pope.

The question is, how many tanks does the minister have to implement his promises tomorrow?

This article was first published in Asharq al-Awsat on Dec. 19, 2013.

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Adulrahman al-Rashed is the General Manager of Al Arabiya News Channel. A veteran and internationally acclaimed journalist, he is a former editor-in-chief of the London-based leading Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat, where he still regularly writes a political column. He has also served as the editor of Asharq al-Awsat’s sister publication, al-Majalla. Throughout his career, Rashed has interviewed several world leaders, with his articles garnering worldwide recognition, and he has successfully led Al Arabiya to the highly regarded, thriving and influential position it is in today.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.