President Barack Obama has extended his new outreach to Iran’s mullahs by dropping his usual criticism of Iran’s theocracy, and offered no penalties for Iran’s development of nuclear weapons.
“The United States and Iran have been isolated from one another since the Islamic Revolution of 1979,” Obama declared in his Tuesday speech to the U.N. General Assembly.
“But I do believe that if we can resolve the issue of Iran’s nuclear program, that can serve as a major step down a long road towards a different relationship, one based on mutual interests and mutual respect,” he declared, while downplaying the long-standing ideological conflict between Americans’ freedoms and Islamic strictures.
His deputies also said Obama would like to meet briefly with Iran’s new president, who was recently nominated to the position by the top layer of Iran’s theocratic government, the Guardian Council. The president, Hasan Rouhani, recently boasted that he used diplomatic talks to stymie U.S. and European effort to stop Iran’s nuclear weapons program.
“The tone was, ‘Can’t we all get along,’” said Jeremy Rabkin, a law professor at George Mason University.
Obama failed to detail the terms of a nuclear deal with Iran, didn’t set a deadline and didn’t demonstrate as much urgency as he shows about the Syrian government use of chemical weapons,” which are much less deadly than nukes, Rabkin said.
Instead, much of the speech was an attempt to show Arabs and Iranians that Americans mean well, despite the deep ideological disagreements between Western and Islamic governments, he said.
“The thing that a lot of people are worried about is that he will transition from a [unenforceable] phony deal with [Syrian dictator Bashar] Assad to a phony deal with the Iranians,” said Rabkin.
Obama “is backpedaling on the staunch language he used in the past,” said Noah Pollak, executive director of the Emergency Committee for Israel.
“What’s problematic is it implies that the Iranian nuclear weapons [development] program is not unacceptable — only possessing a nuclear weapon is unacceptable,” Pollak said.
That problem was highlighted in the 2012 election, when GOP candidate Mitt Romney said he opposed an Iranian nuclear program, but Obama insisted he opposed Iranian nuclear weapons, Pollak said.
Overall, Pollack said, “I think Obama would like to kick the can down the road until he’s not president any more.”
Obama’s tone and appeal this year were much different from his 2011 and 2012 speeches, when he denounced Iran’s theocracy.
“In Iran, we’ve seen a government that refuses to recognize the rights of its own people,” he declared in 2011.
“The Iranian government cannot demonstrate that its [nuclear] program is peaceful. It has not met its obligations and it rejects offers that would provide it with peaceful nuclear power,” he said.
The language was repeated in 2012.
“In Iran, we see where the path of a violent and unaccountable ideology leads … just as it restricts the rights of its own people, the Iranian government props up a dictator in Damascus and supports terrorist groups abroad,” he said. “Time and again, it has failed to take the opportunity to demonstrate that its nuclear program is peaceful, and to meet its obligations to the United Nations,” he announced.
But the 2013 speech dropped the passages about democracy and rights. “We are not seeking regime change and we respect the right of the Iranian people to access peaceful nuclear energy,” he said Tuesday.
“We are determined to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon,” he said.