Iranian President Hassan Rohani is stressed. His speech at the UN General Assembly on Tuesday underscored one fact: He has to bring about the lifting of western sanctions imposed on his country, and fast. Rohani alluded to this in a number of ways: He attacked what he referred to as the immorality of the sanctions and claimed they hurt the people of Iran rather than the leadership, and he spoke extensively about the need for constructive dialogue rather than a threat of military action.
These facts give hope that maybe this time Iran is really willing to conduct pragmatic and goal-oriented negotiations. Rohani specified the two principles he believes the negotiations on Iran's nuclear program should be based on: The first principle is that the world must accept Iran's claim that its nuclear program is peaceful and meant solely for civilian purposes. However, Rohani did not explain what Iran was willing to do so that the international community would accept this claim. Rohani's remarks may have been a hint that Iran would agree to tighter supervision over its nuclear activity, including surprise visits by international inspectors to nuclear plants.
Rohani also demanded that the international community recognize Iran's right to enrich uranium. He did not specify the level of purity of the enriched uranium, nor did he discuss amounts or the centrifuges. But the West – and mainly Israel – is talking about a complete halt to uranium enrichment in Iran. In a number of resolutions, the UN Security Council determined that Iran's uranium enrichment is unacceptable.
Rohani addresses UNGA (Video: Reuters)
So, it is not at all certain that Rohani will be able to bridge the gaps on this issue, and perhaps he purposely left this point vague so as not to arouse the ire of the conservatives in Tehran and so that he would be able to negotiate with the West on a formula that will leave the Iranian wolf satisfied and the western sheep happy.
While listening to Rohani speak, one must not forget, even for a second, that he is walking a fine political line in Iran. He must not irk the Revolutionary Guard or the conservative ayatollahs (on which the regime is based), and he must act within the authority given to him by Supreme Leader Khamenei. This is why his speech was filled with attacks on the US and its violent solutions to the world's problems, while stating that Iran was an "anchor of stability in an ocean of regional instability."
Most of Rohani's speech was based on things he had already said in an op-ed published by the Washington Post a few days ago. However, his speech did indicate that the economic sanctions are the most pressing issue as far as Iran is concerned. Obama would be wise to take advantage of this.