Jeffrey Goldberg spends a lot of time reviewing old Rouhani statements on the nuclear issue, which just tell us the same thing as more recent Rouhani statements:
These are not the words of someone who wants to end Iran’s nuclear program [bold mine-DL]. Taken together, Rouhani’s statements sound like those of a man who is proud of the program and believes he may have devised a way to carry it to completion: By speaking softly, smiling and spinning the centrifuges all the while.
It’s true that Rouhani doesn’t want to “end” Iran’s nuclear program, but he told us as much in his address at the U.N. and in other interviews he’s given since becoming president. There is nothing mysterious about any of this: Iran is never going to end its nuclear program. For one thing, the program remains popular in spite of everything that has been done to Iran because of it, and ending it entirely would be the equivalent of capitulating to foreign interference in Iranian affairs. If Westerners expect that Iran will accept that as the outcome of negotiations, we are deceiving ourselves. Iran may accept limitations on its enrichment, but anyone who thinks that a deal with Iran means that the entire program will be dismantled and brought to an end doesn’t understand what kind of deal Iran will take.
It is unlikely that a critic or opponent of Iran’s nuclear program could have become president. Not only is that a minority position among Iranians, but it is also one not favored by the regime. Even if Rouhani secretly wished to be rid of the nuclear program, he would not say so publicly before or after he was president. More to the point, it is potentially good news that Rouhani has been an active supporter of the program, since that could give him the standing with other members of the regime to strike a deal that an open critic of the program wouldn’t have. That would seem to make a deal more likely, and it might mean that Rouhani can sell larger Iranian concessions than a less vocal booster of the program could.