President John F. Kennedy signed the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty into law 50 years ago today. Now, we no longer live in a bipolar world, and the political actors have changed. But the threat from nuclear weapons remains strong. Last week President Hassan Rouhani of Iran spoke to President Barack Obama by phone — the first conversation between the two countries since 1979. This is a historic opportunity which must be seized by the West.
Since Rouhani came to power, he’s been the antipode to his infamous predecessor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Rouhani has taken unpreceden-ted steps to re-engage with the international community after years of his country’s needless isolationism. He’s written conciliatory opinion pieces in the Washington Post and is intriguingly even an active tweeter despite Iran’s bans on social media. He went as far as to reply to Twitter’s co-founder Jack Dorsey who tweeted him, asking if the Iranian people would have access to the social media platform. Rouhani replied stating that the Iranian people will eventually have access to Twitter, a possible sign that Internet censorship will be lifted in the nation.
Indeed, Iran is entering a period of internal political transition. Unlike previous years where the parliament was dogmatically anti-American, 230 Iranian Parliamentarians out of 290 endorsed Rouhani’s opening move towards positive interaction with the West — a sure sign that the tide is changing under Rouhani’s guidance. This is not to say though that the “death to America” chants will not occur — they still do. But, those preachers filled with hatred and animosity are now becoming the minority. Moderates are slowly becoming more influential within the polity of Iran.
But with all positive steps forward, conservative hawks are quick to pounce on this as just another smoke-screen. They argue that this is simply the latest ploy providing the illusion of diplomacy, where in fact the Iranian government is still feverishly pushing toward a nuclear weapon. The most vocal critic, Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu, declared at the UN General Assembly last week that Rouhani is “a wolf in sheep’s clothing — a wolf who thinks he can pull the wool over the eyes of the international community.”
Of course, Iran is not without fault. There have been a catalogue of violations, but to try and thwart the possibility of diplomatic progress is senseless. Ostensibly, Netanyahu is preaching the party line. This latest series of attacks against Iran and Netanyahu’s decision to meet with a host of European leaders next week is a sign of his waning influence on discussions. The White House should pay no attention to Bibi, who is simply crying wolf. It’s time for the White House to lift the econo-mic sanctions for Iran’s adherence to continued talks to precipitate this thaw in relations.
A version of this article appeared in the Monday, Oct. 4 print edition. Harry Brown is a contributing columnist. Email him at [email protected]