A couple of slips this week by Hassan Rouhani, Iran’s new president, give a glimpse of what’s under his cloak. It might be called The Emperor’s Old Clothes.
Slip No. 1 was his refusal to meet President Obama while both men visited the United Nations, where Mr. Rouhani created considerable buzz with his “renunciation” of nuclear weapons.
Asked by CNN’s Christiane Amanpour about the blatant slight to President Obama after the White House indicated that a meeting would likely occur, President Rouhani said, “In principle, Iran could have, under certain circumstances, allowed for [the meeting] to happen. But I believe that we didn’t have sufficient time to really coordinate the meeting.”
In other words, Mr. Rouhani, despite what pundits have dubbed his “charm offensive,” was apparently under instructions not to meet with the man who has led the campaign of sanctions against Iran that it wants ended.
What, one wonders, were the “certain circumstances” under which a meeting could take place? Perhaps our president has not been sufficiently deferential yet, though since taking office he has repeatedly stressed his desire for a diplomatic solution to Iran’s continuing pursuit of a nuclear arsenal.
And no, Friday’s telephone and Twitter communications between President Rouhani and President Obama can’t erase that snub at the U.N.
Slip No. 2 by Mr. Rouhani was the curious case of the botched translation. Ms. Amanpour, who grew up in Tehran and speaks Farsi (the Iranian language), asked him for his position on the Holocaust, which has long been denied by his nation’s leaders.
In CNN’s translation of his answer, Mr. Rouhani appeared to use the word “Holocaust” and in connection with his condemnation of Nazi crimes against “Jews and non-Jews.”
That made immediate news around the world, including Jerusalem.
But FARS, the Iranian national news service (and, notably, not the office of President Rouhani) objected that its president has been mistranslated. It maintained that he had not used the word “Holocaust” in his answer. In the FARS translation, that answer was no more than the typical evasion that it is up to “historians” to determine what happened — as if there remained any doubt after nearly seven decades of exhaustive evidence documenting that horrendous crime against humanity.
The logical conclusion from this episode is that Mr. Rouhani, a Muslim cleric, is another puppet of the Iranian theocracy, which is vigilant to make sure he does not deviate from its script.
Both slips severely undercut Mr. Rouhani’s declaration to Ms. Amanpour that he has the authority — or the desire — to launch negotiations on the future of Iran’s nuclear program.
They also cast additional doubt on the credibility of Iran, which after all, remains the world’s top state sponsor of terrorism.
The international community must demand full access to Iran’s nuclear sites to verify the Islamic republic’s claim that it isn’t seeking nuclear weapons.
Because “charm offensive” or not, Iran’s rulers have repeatedly demonstrated that they are not to be trusted.