Hassan Rouhani who will be welcomed in Europe this week, but we should shun him, not roll out the red carpet
By Christopher Booker
Due this week to receive a red-carpet welcome in Paris and Rome, following that recent deal with the West which President Obama views as a key part of his “legacy”, is President Hassan Rouhani of Iran. Last Tuesday he had a cosy telephone chat with David Cameron who congratulated him, expressing the hope that, now that sanctions have been lifted and £38 billion of Iranian assets unfrozen – in return for Iran agreeing to scale back its nuclear weapons programme – Britain may now hope to do much business with his country, across the “banking, financial and economic sectors”.
Since it is now the West’s party-line to regard Rouhani as a “moderate” and one of the “good guys”, it is yet again timely to recall the reality of the regime he represents. For a start the real power in Iran lies not with Rouhani but with its Supreme Leader, the Ayatollah Khamenei, who is directly responsible the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), Iran’s equivalent of the old Soviet KGB, imposing ruthless order at home and supporting terror across the Middle East.
Not only has the IRGC been the chief prop since 2011 of the Assad regime in Syria, barrel bombs and all. It also runs more than 50 per cent of the Iranian economy, so that those £38 billion of unfrozen assets will go straight into IRGC coffers through the mass of businesses it controls.
Since the “moderate” Rouhani took office in 2013, Iran has embarked on what Amnesty International calls “a staggering execution spree”, giving it the highest per capita state-killing rate in the world. The targets for murder and imprisonment include journalists, Christians and anyone who can be viewed as a political or religious dissident – in obedience, as Rouhani said in 2014, to “God’s commandments”.
That November deal, which Rouhani did not even bother to sign, may have been celebrated in the West and Tehran as a triumph. But it leaves too many questions unanswered (Iran has only agreed to cut down its number of nuclear centrifuges by two thirds). And this would not be the first time Rouhani has succeeded in running rings round the West.
In 2006 he boasted in Tehran of having “fooled the West” in that earlier “nuclear deal” he negotiated in Vienna in 2004. And back in 1986 there was the “Iran-gate” scandal, when America secretly supplied Iran with arms in return for the release of seven US hostages taken by Iran’s IRGC agents in Lebanon. The missiles were delivered to Iran, but only three hostages were initially released – and three more Americans were promptly seized to replace them.
Iran’s chief negotiator in that deal was Rouhani, even then being hailed in the West as “a moderate”. When the whole fiasco erupted into the greatest scandal of the Reagan era, the Washington Post published a storming editorial headed “The Moderate Fantasy”, excoriating the West’s naivete in imagining that there were “moderates” in the Iranian regime, somehow different from the all-powerful Supreme Leader. If only the US had not fallen for this delusion, the paper concluded, it might have “avoided a titanic and costly misjudgement”. Thirty years later it seems this lesson has still not been learned.