The media’s hunger for Iranian pragmatists truly went overboard this past week with news that outgoing foreign minister Ali Akhbar Salehi was moving back to the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI).
Reuters led the way with its headline to this piece: “Iran appoints pragmatist Salehi to head nuclear program.” The appointment also excited familiar Iran watchers as Dina Esfiandiary from the IISS, Al-Monitor’s Laura Rozen, and Ploughshare’s Joe Cirincione.
But instead of gut feeling, let’s examine a few of Salehi’s comments – and then decide about his pragmatism.
Speaking in March about talks with the P5+1 (translated from Farsi):
“We have successfully exhausted the enemy like we have dealt with them for 34 years, we will stop them from exacerbating the sanctions, and from today we will gradually reduce the sanctions, just as we have not allowed the sanctions to paralyze Iran, despite the predictions.”
Referring in February to how he believes opponents of Iran should be dealt with (translated from German):
“My advice for these groups is this: You might have your differences with us, you might have your own beliefs, but at the same time we advise you to be more rational and more careful.”
And our favorite – Salehi’s comment back in February 2010, before he became foreign minister:
“I caution President Obama, please don’t take any wrong step, because any wrong step will emanate consequences that are beyond the imagination of anybody.”
Salehi – who began and ended his stint as foreign minister with a visit to Zimbabwe to reportedly close a uranium deal – has played an intimate role in Tehran’s military nuclear program since the ’90s. As new/old AEOI head, this pragmatist now has thousands more centrifuges, as well as an advancing plutonium program, to play with.