In a video message to Iran delivered to coincide with the spring holiday of Nowruz, U.S. President Barack Obama may have departed significantly from Bush-era policies by opening the door to constructive dialog between the two nations. But his overtures disappointed many and were less than warmly received by the government in Tehran largely because they seemed to embody a continuation of carrot-and-stick diplomacy oriented toward rewarding a sovereign nation for “good behavior” rather than truly engaging it as an equal.
The BBC reports on the response from Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khomeini:
Speaking to a large crowd in the holy city of Mashhad, Ayatollah Khamenei said Iran had “no experience with the new American government and the new American president.”
“We will observe them and we will judge,” he said.
“If you change your attitude, we will change our attitude.”
In the speech, which was carried live by Iranian television, he said Iran was yet to see such a change.
“What is the change in your policy?” he asked.
“Did you remove the sanctions? Did you stop supporting the Zionist regime? Tell us what you have changed. Change only in words is not enough.”
Matters were not helped, perhaps, in that Obama preceded his address by extending certain sanctions against the Islamic republic for one year, citing threats to U.S. national security.
Iran is due to hold presidential elections this summer. Former President Mohammed Khatami, a figure widely viewed as more open to reconciliation with the West, was at one point slated to run for reelection but then withdrew from the race. Whether or not current President Amahdinejad, seen as a foreign policy hardliner, is ousted from office, the U.S. and Israel need not expect the election to bring any major changes to the political climate.
It is good that the new White House is willing to engage in dialog with Tehran, but the fact remains that, if the U.S. wishes genuinely to create goodwill and a sense of cooperation with Iran, it must itself take steps toward enacting several policy changes:
- First and foremost, the U.S. must openly rethink its complete and unmitigated support for the government of Israel, particularly as it pertains to the occupation of the Palestinian territories. Since the U.S. is largely responsible for the arming and funding of Israeli military operations, and has traditionally backed Israel diplomatically against all odds, it is seen as a de facto partner in the blockades and military offensives which have recently crushed millions of innocent Palestinians in response to rocket fire from a relatively small number of militants. The U.S. could help matters by intensifying its commitment to a political solution for Palestine.
- The U.S. must recognize Iran’s right to develop peaceful nuclear energy, and must adopt a policy of “innocent until proven guilty” towards its suspicions that Iran might be seeking to develop nuclear weapons. There remains no concrete evidence that Iran is working towards a bomb, but the hysteria over the idea continues to mount as Israel considers using missiles to destroy enrichment efforts. Iran may be willing to accept reliance on fuel enriched outside its borders, but not for nothing in return.
- The U.S. must work to end U.S. and U.N. sanctions against Iran. This could be made dependent on eliciting cooperation from Tehran on security issues in Iraq and Afghanistan, which the government may or may not be willing to give. But as long as such sanctions are in place, Iran is justified in feeling that it is being addressed as less than an equal, and little progress is likely.
In return, the U.S. should expect Iran to soften its support of Hezbollah and Hamas, to tone down its anti-Israeli rhetoric and provocative missile tests, and to become more receptive to cooperation in Iraq and Afghanistan. But, to keep realism on the table, we must remember that Iran reasonably views itself as a state under threat, surrounded on both sides by ongoing U.S. military operations and continually threatened by talk of missile attacks from Israel.
Obama’s latest move certainly signifies the hope of change, but it is not yet, for many, change we can believe in.
The headline, from BBC news, is “Bush hopeful for mid-East peace.” Israeli and Palestinian leadership—the latter widely disparaged among some of its own people as unrepresentative of real Palestinian interests—meets this week in Annapolis to discuss prospects for peace.
What Bush and Olmert are most likely hopeful for is that Abbas and the Palestinian delegation will obediently agree to terms which will in no way result in an end to Israeli occupation of Palestine.
Sadly, it is through cheap mainstream press ops such as these that the wider world becomes ever more dumb on the seldom-mentioned larger context within which these debacles take place. Thankfully, though, there are many working on the web and at large in the world to educate people on the root causes of political instability in the Middle East.