Friday, March 20, 2009

Obama Reaches Out to Iran

President Obama has released a video message, reaching out to the people and leaders of Iran as they celebrate Nowruz, the traditional New Year's celebration.

The message is a complete reversal of the Bush administration’s policies and shows the Obama administration’s different approach towards reaching out to countries such as Iran and trying to engage them in a dialogue, which hasn’t existed for a while.  From Foreign Policy magazine’s Web site:

“‘This is huge,’ said Trita Parsi, president of the National Iranian American Council, a group that supports U.S. engagement with Tehran. ‘First of all, he is addressing the people and the government, which has not been done before. At one point he talks about the Islamic Republic. He's signaling he’s not looking for regime change; he’s recognizing Iran’s system.

‘You always heard Rice and Bush say 'Iranian regime,'’ Parsi noted. ‘It's a big difference.’ That doesn't mean Obama doesn’t support Iranian democratization, Parsi said. ‘But he recognizes the government that exists in Iran right now.’

Parsi also found remarkable Obama's comments that he recognized Iran has a ‘rightful role among nations.’

‘When he is saying the U.S. seeks constructive ties between the U.S., Iran, and international community,’ Parsi added, ‘that is signaling strategic intent. He is making it clear is that where he wants to end up through diplomacy which he supports is a constructive, positive relationship with Iran, to put aside our enmity. That is huge.’”

What’s strikingly different in President Obama’s message is the respect he shows the Iranian people, bringing in a historical and cultural aspect to the U.S.’s dialogue with Iran.  This is in stark contrast to the Bush administration and opens up the possibility of greater dialogue, as opposed to labeling all Iran and Iranians as part of an “axis of evil.”  From Foreign Policy magazine:

"Asked if Obama's message to Iran signals a concerted public diplomacy effort related to the Iran policy review underway, the White House official responded: 'He's making clear to the Iranian people and government the future that he sees for the two countries and that we're prepared to engage in direct diplomacy.'"

Here are some reactions from Iranian citizens, courtesy of BBC News.  Some are positive, some are negative, but it seems like most of them call for action and changes in actual policy on both sides.


  1. I think that this new reaching out attempt on the part of the Obama administration is interesting. As we have been learning in class, it is important to engage in dialogue with those whom we do not always see eye to eye with. As relations in the previous administration soured, I think this new approach might be what is needed in Iran. However, I do not know if dialogue alone will work. Reading this, I was reminded of when President Ahmadinejad visited Columbia. Though given the chance to speak, Ahmadinejad's meeting did not end on a friendly note with the Americans. Perhaps given more and more chances for dialogue, the conversations with the Iranians will turn friendlier. However, as some of the Iranian citizen commentators noted, there is so much internal trouble in Iran presently, that diplomacy may do little.

  2. The fact that President Obama is attempting to participate in a dialogue is an important step toward a better relationship with Iran. As we have discussed frequently in class, listening is a huge part of PD. However, listening is all well and good, but if nothing is done based on what has been heard, it will be more of the same. Yes, it is still different from replying in a multilateral way, as has been seen in the past, but I agree with Feri that if our PD is performed in a respectful way, THAT would be a pretty big divergance.