Like a clock that does not run, President Barack Obama is only right twice per day. So his Persian New Year message to the Iranian people on March 20 was one of those times.
The Iranian government and especially Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad underestimated the ability of Obama to deliver a message directly to the Iranian people with Farsi subtitles. The timing was the beginning of the festival of Nowruz, a 12-day holiday that marks the arrival of spring and the beginning of the next year on the Persian calendar. Ahmadinejad and his advisors are not the first people to underestimate Obama and his communications ability.
“We have serious differences that have grown over time," said Obama. “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.”
Obama is lucky to follow George W. Bush again, who labeled Iran a country in the “Axis of Evil,” but drew no distinction between Ahmadinejad’s nuclear ambitions and the people of Iran. Obama’s approach is both carrot and stick.
Obama said, “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.”
The response of the Ahmadinejad government was both immediate and extreme. Washington must stop accusing Iran of seeking to build nuclear weapons and supporting terrorism, charges Tehran denies. What they do not deny is Iran’s desire to destroy Israel.
"Obama has talked of change but has taken no practical measures to address America's past mistakes in Iran. If Mr. Obama takes concrete actions and makes fundamental changes in U.S. foreign policy toward other nations including Iran, the Iranian government and people will not turn their back on him," press adviser Ali Akbar Javanfekr told the state-run English-language Press TV satellite station.
The danger for Ahmadinejad is that the Iranian people may turn their back on him when they could vote again for reformers. That is the real value of the Obama message.