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Sunday, 22 March 2009

Iran leaves doors open for Obama


In a counter-offer to President Barack Obama's offer of "new beginnings", Iran on Saturday enunciated that the new US administration must demonstrate change in practice.

President Obama, in a groundbreaking message to the people and leaders of Iran, congratulated Nowruz (the Persian New Year), invoked the celebrated Iranian art and culture and appealed to "the common humanity that binds" the nations of the two archrivals of nearly three decades.

Former president George W. Bush made a serious mistake by attempting to isolate Iran. The eight years of heightened animosity under Bush left the new administration with no choice but to launch an initiative that at a glance appears valiant and adorned with refreshing humility.

President Obama promised that the new agenda in relations with Tehran would not be "advanced by threats" and would instead focus on "greater opportunities for partnership and commerce".

He added that the United States seeks "engagement that is honest and grounded in mutual respect".

To make up for the arrogance of the Bush administration, President Obama has apparently shelved the 'regime change' objective, military threats, and a carrot-and-stick approach.

Despite the effortless lobbying of Israel and some Arab governments against reconcilement with the Iranian government, Obama expressed his explicit acceptance of the Islamic Revolution by twice mentioning "the Islamic Republic of Iran" in his video message -- an affirmation long eschewed by US administrations.

The president nevertheless failed to touch on the subjects that have kept Iranians angry for so many years and reluctant to change their mindset toward the White House.

Obama's message did mention US misdeeds since the successful overthrow of the democratically-elected government of Iranian Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadeq in 1953 by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).

There was no admission of guilt for the White House support of the former dictator Saddam Hussein during the Iraqi-launched war against Iran (1980-88).

There was no forgiveness plea for shooting down an Iranian passenger aircraft over the Strait of Hormuz in 1988, in which all 290 passengers, including 66 children and crewmembers were killed.

No contrition was expressed for years of anti-Iran sanctions -- Not to mention that President Obama just very recently extended the sanctions for another year.

Moreover, President Obama made sure to allude to unsubstantiated allegations against the arch-foe regarding its nuclear program.

Given the fact that overtures in Iranian relations could easily complicate US relations from Israel -- where a right-wing administration is in the making -- to Saudi Arabia, Obama's initiative emerged appealing and courageous at first sight.

But the promise of persuasive diplomacy only accentuates the Obama administration's intentions in appearing glamorous and generous for its Iran photo opportunity.

In Iran, meanwhile, Leader of the Islamic Revolution Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei, who has the final say in Iranian policy decisions, was swift to notice the intentions.

Ayatollah Khamenei did not outright rebuff Obama's message but demanded concrete steps from the new administration rather than words and a mere change of tactics.

"If you change, we will change our attitude," Ayatollah Khamenei reaffirmed.

The process of change that Iran seeks could be started with the White House lifting anti-Iran sanctions or by releasing Iranian assets blocked after the 1980 US embassy takeover in Tehran.

Bear in mind that there will be voices in Washington lobbying against any compromise on the Iranian issue, but President Obama is well aware that refusal to engage will work in Iran's interest -- as it did during the Bush era.

Overnight rapprochement is out of the question. But if Obama is sincere, the door to better ties is wide open.

By Anoush Maleki