JERUSALEM—Hassan Rowhani, in a conversation secretly taped by an Israeli agent 27 years ago, is heard urging the West to take a firm stand against the founder of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.
The transcript of the tape, published yesterday on Ynet, could cause difficulties for Rowhani, Iran’s newly elected president, who thought he was criticizing the ayatollah to an agent of the United States.
"If you analyze Khomeini’s character you’ll see that a strong opponent makes him go a hundred feet back," Rowhani said. "While a weak one impels him to drive forward. Unfortunately, you [the United States] have taken the wrong stance. You’re too soft on him. Had you been tougher, you’d be in a position of superiority."
Rowhani urged the United States to "bare sharp teeth" to Khomeini or risk trouble around the world. "If you threaten him with military force he’ll kiss your hand and run."
Rowhani was talking in a Paris hotel room with Amiram Nir, an adviser on counter-terror to former Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres. With them was Manucher Ghorbanifar, an Iranian arms dealer and the middleman in a complex American-Iranian-Israeli backroom deal in which the United States sent missiles via Israel to Iran, then fighting a war with Iraq, while Iran was supposed to pressure Hezbollah in Lebanon to release American hostages it was holding.
Ghorbanifar, who had extensive contacts inside the Iranian hierarchy, also had close contacts with Israel. He arranged the 1986 meeting, which he began by saying to Nir: "I’ve explained to Dr. Rowhani that you are from the White House, a special envoy to the Middle East, and he is happy to meet with you."
Rowhani said he understood English but had difficulty speaking it so Ghorbanifar served as translator.
Nir died in a mysterious airplane crash in Mexico two years after meeting with Rowhani.
An article based on a transcript of the meeting was published in Yedioth Achronoth by its military correspondent, Ron Ben-Yishai in 1991. Yedioth’s website, called Ynet, republished the article yesterday.
Rowhani emerges in the tape as representing a faction within the divided Iranian leadership that believed Iran’s future should be linked to the West. With Ayatollah Khomeini ill, Rowhani backed a moderate cleric, Ayatollah Hussein-Ali Montazeri, as his successor.
Montazeri lost to a more extreme cleric, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s current Supreme Leader.
When Nir asked Rowhani how the United States should display its strength, he replied: "If you said to him(Khomeini) you must release all the hostages being held in Lebanon within five days. If not we’ll deal you a military blow. Show that you are strong and you will see the results."