Beware Persian Snake Charmers

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“We in the West make a great mistake when we transpose our values onto the rest of the world.” – Margaret Thatcher

On Sept. 22, the very day before Iranian President Hassan Rohani boarded a plane for his whirlwind charm offensive in New York, he spoke at a parade where he watched a fleet of Shahab missiles being carried on a fleet of trucks, adorned with the banners, “Israel shall cease to exist,” written in Farsi. The charm blitz has been wildly successful by Iranian measures. The highly celebrated telephone call between Obama and Rohani was touted in headlines throughout the world as a major international breakthrough.

Yet, as Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), wrote in this Sunday’s Washington Post, “Iran expressed an interest in negotiations because the economic pain levied on it by Congress and the international community has become unbearable. This outreach was borne out of necessity, not a sudden gesture of goodwill.”

Prior to his U.N. address, Mr. Rohani gave an interview with NBC news reporter Ann Curry, when he went back to the familiar refrain of calling Israel “an occupier and usurper government” that “does injustice to the people of the region, and has brought instability with its warmongering policies.” In both that interview and a subsequent CNN interview, when asked about the Holocaust his response in Farsi was the same, “I am not a historian. We will leave it to the historians to decide.” As if the fact of the Holocaust is a reasonable, scholarly question.

During his U.N. address, dripping with pretend benevolence, Rohani assured the world that “nuclear weapons have no place in Iran’s security and defense doctrine.” He then sought to focus attention away from Iran’s rapidly advancing nuclear program by demanding that Israel join the list of the so-called peace-loving nations who have signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, like Libya, Syria, and Iran.

The Soviets had a wonderful term for what the Iranians are doing — “doublespeak.” Doublespeak is the art of using words as a form of warfare, to deceive one’s enemy. It is in perfect harmony with the Shiite concept of taquiya, lying about one’s intentions for the sake of Allah. The Iranians play chess, while we, trusting people in the West, play checkers.

It is difficult for me to understand why seemingly rational people are so willing to suspend their good, critical intellects and trust the assurances of brutal despots and theocratic tyrants, when they offer us little more than a few kind words and a smile (and, in this case, not even a handshake).

The question is not whether Rohani wants to engage in diplomacy with the United States and the international community. The question is whether he is willing to totally stop the nuclear project. A country sitting on so much oil does not need nuclear power for peaceful purposes.

While he preached at the U.N. that “the age of zero-sum games is over,” Iran had more than 4,000 Revolutionary Guard troops in Syria helping the government of Bashar al Assad slaughter his own people. It is also sending Assad military equipment and Iranian-trained Hezbollah forces.

During this charm blitz, the centrifuges never stopped spinning for a single nanosecond. According to the most recent International Atomic Energy Report (IAEA), Iran already has enough enriched uranium at 20 per cent for at least one nuclear bomb. The Iranians are currently at work trying to remove the conventional warhead from the Shahab 3 missiles to replace it with a nuclear warhead, according to the IAEA in May, 2012.

We have got to finally learn to listen carefully to what Middle Eastern leaders say at home in their own language. As Ambassador John Bolton said at an EMET seminar in August of this year, Hassan Rohani was Iranian chief nuclear negotiator from 2003 to 2005, when he claimed to offer the Europeans a diplomatic opening, before subsequently boasting how he played them.

Rohani said, “The day that we invited the three European ministers [to the talks], only 10 centrifuges were spinning at [the Iranian nuclear facility of] Natanz. … We could not produce one gram of U4 or U6 [uranium hexafluoride]. … We did not have the heavy-water production. We could not produce yellow cake. Our total production of centrifuges inside the country was 150.”

He continued: “We wanted to complete all of these — we needed time.” He actually called the Europeans “human shields” against American efforts to halt the Iranian nuclear program. He then boasted that after he took responsibility for negotiations, the nuclear project grew to 1,700 centrifuges, and that “(w)e did not stop [negotiations], until we completed the project.”

Leopards do not change their spots.

By opening up a new diplomatic front with Iran, we are giving Rohani what he craves more than anything else: the gift of time — time to finish his nuclear weapons program.

Many of my liberal friends have asked me what we have to lose by gambling on diplomacy. The answer is plenty.

I, for one, am not willing to gamble away the existence of Israel, the beautiful vibrant, tiny democracy with 6 million precious souls living in it, painstakingly rebuilt after 2,000 years of exile, on someone who openly boasts about his well-honed art of cunning and deception.

Originally published at

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About the Author

Sarah Stern
Sarah Stern is founder and president of the Endowment for Middle East Truth (EMET).

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