Friday, March 20, 2009

Obama & Iran- Respectful Diplomacy ?



President Obama's taped speech to be broadcast to the Iranian people was a clear departure not only from the Bush administration's "Axis of Evil" designation, but from a dismal US foreign policy towards that nation in some two decades.



For the US, the souring of relations with Iran began with the hostage crisis of the 1970s--which would partially help usher in the Reagan Era, and usher out President Jimmy Carter--and Iranian support for nationalist groups (designated terrorists) which threaten US interests, like Hezbollah. But for Iranians, the beginning of those bad relations was at least twenty-five years earlier, when in 1954 the US CIA, along with British interests, enginerred the overthrow of the popular government of Premier Mohammed Mossaddeq. It was Iran's last democratically elected leadership, to be followed by a very unpopular western puppet in the form of the Shah, and later a socially repressive religious orthodoxy. During this time the US supported Iran's enemey Saddam Hussein (politically and militarily) in an aggressive war that would kill hundreds of thousands of Iranians, in the controversial 1988 Operation Praying Mantis, and have imposed sanctions against the existing regime. And though Iran would show profound sympathy for the US in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, and provide key aid in the overthrow of the Taliban in Afghanistan, their blatant overtures of diplomacy were repeatedly rebuffed.

Obama's speech is far from anything resembling an apology for the US role in a past tumultuous relationship. Nor should it seen as a backing away from any possible sanction or military attack on Iran over an alleged nuclear program. The administration still loudly refers to an "Iranian Threat" that somehow looms over the world. Yet, it is at least a step away from the brash and thinly veiled hostility of past addresses. There are no calls here to overthrow the current rulers of Iran (something that should be left to the Iranian people to do, if that is what they want), nor the normal arrogance inherent of a "Johnny-come-lately" nation lecturing a country and people that can claim links to the ancient world. And in that, we can at least see a glimmer of hope.




Speech:

THE PRESIDENT: Today I want to extend my very best wishes to all who are celebrating Nowruz around the world.

This holiday is both an ancient ritual and a moment of renewal, and I hope that you enjoy this special time of year with friends and family.

In particular, I would like to speak directly to the people and leaders of the Islamic Republic of Iran. Nowruz is just one part of your great and celebrated culture. Over many centuries your art, your music, literature and innovation have made the world a better and more beautiful place.

Here in the United States our own communities have been enhanced by the contributions of Iranian Americans. We know that you are a great civilization, and your accomplishments have earned the respect of the United States and the world.

For nearly three decades relations between our nations have been strained. But at this holiday we are reminded of the common humanity that binds us together. Indeed, you will be celebrating your New Year in much the same way that we Americans mark our holidays -- by gathering with friends and family, exchanging gifts and stories, and looking to the future with a renewed sense of hope.

Within these celebrations lies the promise of a new day, the promise of opportunity for our children, security for our families, progress for our communities, and peace between nations. Those are shared hopes, those are common dreams.

So in this season of new beginnings I would like to speak clearly to Iran's leaders. We have serious differences that have grown over time. My administration is now committed to diplomacy that addresses the full range of issues before us, and to pursuing constructive ties among the United States, Iran and the international community. This process will not be advanced by threats. We seek instead engagement that is honest and grounded in mutual respect.

You, too, have a choice. The United States wants the Islamic Republic of Iran to take its rightful place in the community of nations. You have that right -- but it comes with real responsibilities, and that place cannot be reached through terror or arms, but rather through peaceful actions that demonstrate the true greatness of the Iranian people and civilization. And the measure of that greatness is not the capacity to destroy, it is your demonstrated ability to build and create.

So on the occasion of your New Year, I want you, the people and leaders of Iran, to understand the future that we seek. It's a future with renewed exchanges among our people, and greater opportunities for partnership and commerce. It's a future where the old divisions are overcome, where you and all of your neighbors and the wider world can live in greater security and greater peace.

I know that this won't be reached easily. There are those who insist that we be defined by our differences. But let us remember the words that were written by the poet Saadi, so many years ago: "The children of Adam are limbs to each other, having been created of one essence."

With the coming of a new season, we're reminded of this precious humanity that we all share. And we can once again call upon this spirit as we seek the promise of a new beginning.

Thank you, and Eid-eh Shoma Mobarak.


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