Obama, Iran and the ‘appeasement’ meme

President Obama uses Nowruz, the Iranian new year, to directly appeal to  "to the people and leaders of the Islamic Republic of Iran," but especially the leaders:

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."

The usual suspects are already using the "appeasement" word (satisfying the expectations of Glenn Greenwald and Instaputz.) This seems a little overwrought. A lot overwrought, even. Obama just renewed existing Iranian sanctions for a year and Dennis Ross, his top Iran mandarin (I like that word!), is meeting with Israel’s chief of staff to coordinate the noose-tightening. None of this is inconsistent with the bigger carrots, bigger sticks policy he campaigned on.

Here are a couple of reactions from the Inbox…

* U.S. Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), the speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives:

President Obama’s outreach to the people of Iran marks a new beginning on the first day of this new season.  We must all work together to define our relationship not by differences, as the President has said, but by what we share in common.

* U.S. Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee:

President Obama’s eloquent address to the people and leaders of Iran commemorating Nowruz can be a watershed moment in public diplomacy, with a unique president using the powers of persuasion to great effect.

The regime in Tehran faces rising discontent from its own people. President Obama’s message offers the regime a real choice: they can continue down the path of intransigence and face increasing regional isolation, escalating international sanctions, continuing economic stagnation and the threat of a regional confrontation, or they can start down a path of real change for both Iran and the entire Middle East.

Ending Iran’s nuclear program and its support for terror is front and center for this Administration, as it must be. But if we learned anything during the last eight years, it’s that mere saber rattling and idle threats only strengthen hardliners in Tehran by giving them a convenient foil and rhetorical sparring partner to distract from their own failures within their own country.

I am not naïve about the difficulties of a diplomatic breakthrough with Iran. But while it remains to be seen what direct negotiations with Iran can bring, this type of direct and respectful outreach to the Iranian people will be necessary if we are to chart a new course with Iran.

(John, John, John – I can call you John, having interviewed you, can’t I? Go, learn from Nancy — she keeps it down to a punchy graf, and persuasively uses "we," no mumbly-stumbly "I.")

Here’s Trita Parsi, who heads the National Iranian American Council, which favors engagement and advocates against confrontation with Iran:

As Iranians celebrate Norooz, which means a New Day, President Obama has made America’s intent on finding a new day for relations between the US and Iran based on mutual respect very clear. Obama’s speech will be the topic of conversation at every New Year gathering in Iran today.

Through this carefully written message, Obama is doing something crucial: He is sending a signal of strategic intent that America’s objective is to find constructive relations between the US and Iran, i.e. ending the destructive enmity that has existed for three decades.

This is important since tactical collaboration with Iran in Afghanistan would be unlikely to achieve unless America assured the Iranians that the broader long-term objective is to find a positive relationship between the two countries.

By using the term “Islamic Republic,” Obama is also signaling America’s acceptance of Iran’s revolution. This does not mean that America will not welcome democratization in Iran, but it does signal that the policy of regime change has been cast aside.

Obama is focusing on behavioral change, not regime change. Recognizing that Iran has a rightful place among nations, clarifies that America recognizes that a country and civilization of Iran’s size cannot be isolated and contained inevitably. By pointing out that this role comes with responsibilities, he signals Iran that its rightful role is within reach if its policies change. This is a significant break with the Bush Administration policies.

Through this speech, President Obama does not only express tremendous respect and recognition of the Iranian nation and civilization, he also demonstrates that he recognizes that outreach to the Arab world is different from outreach to Iran. He shows an important understanding of the uniqueness of the Iranian civilization, a point that likely won’t be lost on the Iranians.

Interesting stuff — I had no idea the Mullahs hankered for the use of "Islamic Republic." I use it all the time. I guess it’s like the old saw: "Call me anything you like, just don’t call me late for Armageddon."

Finally, here’s the video of the president — also available, the White House tells us, with Persian subtitles:

 

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