Iranian President Hassan Rouhani offers to broker Syria talks


Iran's new president, Hassan Rouhani, takes the oath of office.


Atta Kenare

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani signaled his government's readiness to broker talks between the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and the rebels fighting against him in a Friday op-ed in The Washington Post.

Rouhani wrote, "I announce my government’s readiness to help facilitate dialogue between the Syrian government and the opposition."

The news came as Qadri Jamil, Syria's deputy prime minister, claimed the civil war that has killed more than 100,000 people and displaced millions had reached a stalemate.

"Neither the armed opposition nor the regime is capable of defeating the other side," Jamil told the Guardian on Thursday. "This zero balance of forces will not change for a while."

Rouhani is only the latest world leader in recent weeks to make a public appeal via an op-ed, after Russian President Vladimir Putin penned a highly criticized piece for The New York Times.

US Sen. John McCain wrote something of a rebuttal to Putin's remarks, voicing his opposition in an editorial for the Russian news site Pravda.ru, though the paper's influence pales significantly compared to The Times.

Neither McCain or Putin appeared to gain much diplomatic leverage or support with their prose.

Rouhani's editorial took on a tactful tone. Instead of blatantly attacking the United States for its foreign policy or sanctions against Iran, the newly elected president called for "constructive" dialogue to solve "unhealthy" rivalries.

"We must pay attention to the complexities of the issues at hand to solve them. Enter my definition of constructive engagement. In a world where global politics is no longer a zero-sum game, it is — or should be — counterintuitive to pursue one’s interests without considering the interests of others," Rouhani wrote.

"A constructive approach to diplomacy doesn’t mean relinquishing one’s rights. It means engaging with one’s counterparts, on the basis of equal footing and mutual respect, to address shared concerns and achieve shared objectives. In other words, win-win outcomes are not just favorable but also achievable. A zero-sum, Cold War mentality leads to everyone’s loss."     

Next week Rouhani will attend the United Nations General Assembly in New York City, and it's possible he could meet with US President Barack Obama to discuss the contentious issue of Iran's nuclear program.

On Thursday, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said Obama is "willing to have that meeting … provided that Iran demonstrates a seriousness about dealing with its nuclear weapons program."

US, Israeli and other western officials say Iran is developing nuclear weapons technology, a claim Tehran denies, claiming that the program is only for energy and medical purposes.

In his op-ed Rouhani offered a view of how Iranians might see their nuclear program, possibly a way to help set the tone for future negotiations.

"To us, mastering the atomic fuel cycle and generating nuclear power is as much about diversifying our energy resources as it is about who Iranians are as a nation, our demand for dignity and respect and our consequent place in the world," Rouhani wrote. 

Rouhani will take on his trip to America the only Jewish member of Iran's parliament, Siamak Moreh Sedgh. The move is fairly significant when considering that Iran's last president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, publicly denied the Holocaust.

Here is a recent interview Rouhani gave to NBC's Ann Curry, in which he said Iran would never develop nuclear weapons:

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