Analysis: Rowhani sounds a lot like Ahmadinejad

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Iran’s new president Hassan Rowhani, a ‘moderate’ Western-educated veteran negotiator who has presented himself as the opposite of his predecessor, hardliner Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, proved in his U.N. address Tuesday they’re actually quite similar.

Leading up to this year’s annual U.N. General Assembly opening session, Rowhani, who took office last month, had been singing a different tune—that of diplomacy and finding a peaceful resolution to the country’s contested nuclear arms program.

Yet his speech Tuesday, touching upon Iran’s rights to uranium enrichment, blaming Israel for the plight of Palestinians and bashing American superiority sounded similar to Ahmadinejad’s of past years.

Rowhani, who formerly served as Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator, insisted that Iran’s atomic energy program is “exclusively peaceful” and said he would work to “remove any and all reasonable concerns about Iran’s peaceful nuclear program.”

But at the same time, he cautioned it would be “extremely unrealistic, to presume that the peaceful nature of the nuclear program of Iran could be ensured through impeding the program via illegitimate pressures.”

In his next sentence, Rowhani pledged Iran is “prepared to engage immediately in time-bound and result-oriented talks.”

Translation: The centrifuges will keep spinning.

Sound familiar? Last year Ahmadinejad accused the West of nuclear “intimidation” in his U.N. address.  

Ahmadinejad later told reporters that Iran was ready for talks with the U.S.

But the parallels don’t stop there.

Rowhani criticized American superiority: “A few actors (read: U.S.) still tend to rely on archaic and deeply ineffective ways and means to preserve their old superiority and domination,” he said.

At the same time he boasted, “Iran is the anchor of stability in an otherwise ocean of regional instabilities.”

Wonder what the people of Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Syria, Turkey and Lebanon think about that claim.

The clear distinction can be made that when their speeches are compared, Rowhani’s tone is not as harsh as his predecessor, who conveyed a similar message by saying “self-proclaimed centers of power have entrusted themselves to the devil,” in last year’s address.

The biggest irony of all was that Rowhani, like Ahmadinejad a leaders of the largest state-sponsor of global terrorism, criticized the rampant spread of terrorism around the world.

“Terrorism and the killing of innocent people represent the ultimate inhumanity of

extremism and violence. Terrorism is a violent scourge and knows no country or national

borders,” he said.

Rowhani’s point was to condemn the U.S use of drones.

Ahmadinejad made the same point to criticize U.S. expansion of military bases around the world.

The only thing Rowhani didn’t get to in terms of shadowing Ahmadinejad was denying  the Holocaust. But he did sidestep the question of whether he believed that the Holocaust was “a myth” during his interview with  NBC’s Ann Curry.

“I’m not a historian. I’m a politician,” he told her. “What is important for us is that the countries of the region and the people grow closer to each other, and that they are able to prevent aggression and injustice.”

Sanctions were a central part of both presidents’ addresses, with Rowhani calling them “intrinsically inhumane and against peace.”

Rowhani’s speech, albeit delivered with a smile, was more of what we have been hearing for over three decades from a regime whose ideological objectives have been clear from day one. The Iranian government, regardless of who is in office, will strive to stay in power in Iran while spreading its Shiite influence in the region. 

While diplomatic openings are ideal, the only way to truly believe there is or will be any change in the Iranian regime is to not only hear rhetoric that has evolved but to see progress in action.    

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