Iran’s Foreign Ministry says it has proof that chemical weapons were used earlier this month in Syria by the rebels trying to oust President Bashar Al-Assad. President Rohani also said he was certain chemical weapons were used in Syria—but he pointedly avoided saying whom he thought used them.
The subtle difference was a hint of the milder approach Rohani is expected to take. It marks a return to the more statesmanlike approach used by Presidents Rafsanjani and Khatami, but abandoned the past eight years by President Ahmadi-nejad.
Rohani did not stop the Foreign Ministry from proclaiming repeatedly, firmly and without even a modicum of doubt that the rebels were using chemical weapons in Syria. There was no suggestion that state propaganda would take a new turn under Rohani.
But Rohani’s own remarks on Syria and the chemical weapons signaled that he wished to be taken seriously as a global player and would play the game like a professional.
It is often forgotten that Rafsanjani always left the harsh rhetoric to others when he was president. He might make some critical remarks about the United States and the West, but he never made slashing attacks or used harsh rhetoric or stooped to lame conspiracy theories.
Only a few days after leaving the presidency in 1997, however, Rafsanjani gave a speech in which he used all the violent anti-American rhetoric he had avoided for eight years as president. He was presumably trying to build back his ties to the hardliners in the regime.
Rohani’s refusal to blame chemical use on the Syrian rebels suggests he is adopting the Rafsanjani and Khatami approach of leaving the cutting remarks and questionable accusations to underlings.
Rohani said Saturday, “We completely and strongly condemn the use of chemical weapons, because the Islamic Republic of Iran is itself a victim of chemical weapons…. Many of the innocent people of Syria have been injured and martyred by chemical agents. And this is unfortunate.” But he did not blame anyone.
Over at the Foreign Ministry that same day, spokesman Abbas Araqchi said, “There is proof terrorist groups carried out this action.” In the following days, he and others repeated the charge, so it was clear that Rohani had not forbidden the charge. While Araqchi claimed he had proof, he did not provide any evidence to back up his charge.