Moon of Alabama Brecht quote
March 21, 2009

Genuine Change?

Obama addressed the Iranian people and government in a recorded Novruz greating. While this was a change of tone compared to Bush's axis of evil, it was still quite aggressive in my view.

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.

Who is the U.S. to teach anyone about the "terror of arms"? And why do this speech in concert with Israel?

In his answer ayatollah Khamenei responded that a change in tone is not enough to change relations:

"They congratulate Iranians on the New Year but at the same time they accuse Iran of supporting terrorism and seeking nuclear arms," Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei said on Saturday addressing masses of people in the holy city of Mashhad on the occasion of Nowruz (the Iranian New Year).

"They tell us to come and sit at the negotiating table. Under the slogan of change, they say let's mend the ties. Where is the change? Clarify this for us."

He added several demands:

"Have you released the frozen assets of the Iranian nation? Have you lifted sanctions against us? Have you stopped spreading allegations against us?"

His offer:

"You change. We will change too," the Leader concluded, adding that the US change of policy must be 'genuine'.

Not very diplomatic, but considering the viewpoint of the Iranians after 30 years of hostilities from the U.S., that may be understandable.

A lot will now depend on Obama's next steps. There has been no hint yet what those may be.

It is interesting to see the headlines of the news items that reported Khamenei's response.

One camp is picturing the response as a rebuke:

Others see it more differentiated:

What did the folks in the first camp actually expected Iran to do? To bend over? To kiss Obama's feet?

It is of course not by chance that the first three sources are from U.S. media while the second three are international. There is a well trained aggressive view of U.S. politicians, media and big chunks of its public against Iran, shaped by 30 years of relentless propaganda.

If Obama wants real change in the relations with Iran, he may have to begin with changing the U.S. domestic view first. There is a long list of justified grievance Iran has against the U.S. - the broken Algiers Accord, Iran Air Flight 688 and of cause the Iraq-Iran war in which the U.S. supported Saddam Hussein.

To remember the U.S. public of these could help to form the base for genuine change.

What's your take on this?

Posted by b on March 21, 2009 at 14:44 UTC | Permalink


Speaking of diplomacy...

Kissinger meets with Russians, echoes Obama's line not... "sent by President Obama"

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev sounds optimistic about improved relations after Nixon's secretary of State and other former high-ranking officials pay an informal visit.

Reporting from Moscow -- The octogenarian Republican is an improbable go- between to push the diplomatic line of a young Democratic president. But here he was in Moscow on Friday: Henry Kissinger, the architect of Cold War detente with the Soviet Union, meeting informally with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev to try to smooth over a new generation of animosities between their two countries.

Kissinger led a team of prominent former U.S. officials in meetings in Moscow this week who were acting on their own but echoing the message of cooperation from an Obama administration that has pledged to "reset" relations that have become tense in recent years. And the young Russian president, still regarded by many observers as an apprentice to Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, spoke encouragingly of efforts to end the acrimony.

Kissinger, who also met with Putin, assured reporters that he'd found ample ground for cooperation. "I'm happy to report that the differences were not so remarkable and the agreements were considerable," he said.

The Nixon-era secretary of State was joined on the trip by other prominent officials from previous administrations, including former Secretary of State George Shultz, former Georgia Sen. Sam Nunn, former Defense Secretary William Perry and former Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin.

The White House said the group had not been sent by President Obama. "They're private citizens and not there at the behest of the White House," said an official, speaking on condition of anonymity. "But they did inform the White House beforehand."

So, we have Kissinger leading a team to Moscow, 'not sent by the President'? I can't believe Iran wasn't also a topic in whatever talks were and are underway there by these "private citizens".

Meanwhile, Sec of State Clinton [is] named Global Trailblazer? I 'm quite sure every aspiring female from grade school to adulthood, will want one of these...

Posted by: Uncle $cam | Mar 21 2009 16:11 utc | 1

I assume diplomacy is not done in public. This is done for consumption at home. It is less difficult to climb up on a tree, than it is to climb down.

Posted by: outsider | Mar 21 2009 16:22 utc | 2

@Outisder - I agree that it is mostly for domestic consumption. "See we did something and now Iran is rejecting us ..." Maybe that was the whole plan with this.

M.J.Rosenberg: Did Israel Intentionally Undermine Obama's Outreach To Iran?

Yesterday, when the New York Times inexplicably gave Shimon Peres' insulting message to Iran equal play with President Obama''s, I thought it might be no coincidence.

Peres, who is an uberhawk on Iran, suddenly sends "greetings" to the Iranian people urging them to rise up against their government at the same moment that Obama respectfully addressed the "Islamic Republic of Iran" with the most conciliatory US message in decades. Coincidence? Maybe.

Of course, the Iranians would not view it that way. They would see America and Israel playing "good cop, bad cop," diminishing the effect of Obama's remarkable overture.

Posted by: b | Mar 21 2009 16:50 utc | 3

USeael has been threatening to attack Iran for past decades (at one point even nuclear attach during Bush/Chaney admin), and these threats has not been seized. Despite appearance of change. Obama administration still fully supports terrorist Zionist State of Israel while this criminal entity threatens to attack Iran all the time (with help of US). Obama ignore all these facts (not to mention presence of over 150,000US army around Iran) and accuse Iran of supporting terrorists and threatening others in a new beginning message
That supposes to be friendly and historic. Obama may even believe his own rhetoric’s but he is still under yoke of Zionists circles and can not even write a friendly message without heavily edited by pro Israel neocons. He must be really politically immature if he thinks Iranian will sit and talk friendly with his representative Denis Ross about improving relation that is an insult by itself. Obama has chosen extremist anti Iranian first Israeli Zionist to be his liaison with Iran that is more powerful and clear message than quoting Persian Poet Sadi in his New Year message to Iranian.
Iran support and will continue support Hezbollah in Lebanon, Hamas in occupied territory and resistant in Iraq, These support are legitimate and all are defensive struggle against aggression and supported by UN charter for those who are fair. Iran has resisted and survived 20 years, war mongering of Reagan(8), Bush (12), she definitely will survive this one.
Obama should show his love for US by changing his ME policy and stop one sided support of criminal Zionist state , that will be new beginning message.

Posted by: Loyal | Mar 21 2009 16:53 utc | 4

To remind the US public...

There's also that Shah thing. Obama may be just like Roosevelt- Kermit Roosevelt, Jr.

It'll take a pretty big stick to get the US public to sit through its history lessons.

Posted by: biklett | Mar 21 2009 16:54 utc | 5

There've been a lot of hints about what "Obama's next steps might be", the forced resignation of Charles Freeman one of the loudest.

Even if you don't believe that Mossad has a blackmail file on every American politician, it's pretty clear that if the US tries in any way to wriggle out of Israel's hard-line on Iran (what would otherwise be a highly intellegent thing to do), Israel will go ahead and launch its nuclear attack anyway, drawing us right back in.

Posted by: senecal | Mar 21 2009 17:06 utc | 6

"Well, gosh, we did try peaceful means first, after all" is pretty much the point of the Obama speech.

"That having failed, what else left could we do?" will be the next one.

Posted by: jim p | Mar 21 2009 17:24 utc | 7

Moscow: No ill intent in Iran's nukes

Nice headline eh? What it really says...

, March 20 (UPI) -- There is nothing in the Iranian nuclear program to suggest there is an effort to develop a military component, a Russian defense official said Friday.

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov told reporters Friday that Moscow did not believe Iran was attempting to develop a nuclear-weapons program, RIA Novosti reports.

Posted by: Uncle $cam | Mar 21 2009 17:50 utc | 8

How can anyone with any knowledge of History possibly think you can talk to a group of people who are taught daily to hate the US & it's citizen's,you couldnt negotiate with Hitler could you? Bottom line if the Us would agree to not be friend's with the Zionist nation,the Khamenei would then agree to talk with our president. Amazing ego. Please let's just stay out of this fight,we cant win,we cant change there hatred of us & or any other nation. Let's worry about getting America's economy back on track & let the Iranian's take care of there own issue's.

Posted by: linda lin jaynes | Mar 21 2009 18:01 utc | 9

Well, in 2008 Bush too celebrated Nowruz, setting up a table in the Dining Room of the White House and inviting some Iranian-Americans to celebrate (here). There are a lot of Iranians living in the US that, while opposing or openly despising the Islamic Republic, would not be happy if Iran was bombed, even worse if the results will be like in Iraq. So US governments must, at least at words, appease Iranians, in the country and in the diaspora. For me, to reach that point, US government should instead make clear that the originally neocon plan for a new Middle East, that among the other points involved dismembering Iran into some ethnic states (that, in case of war, will be the first question to face) like Iraq was planned to be divided among sectarian lines, is definitively off the table.

John Whitbeck has an interesting analysis on the statement on Counterpunch. A couple of excerpts:

On the occasion of the Persian New Year, President Obama has videotaped a personal statement to the Iranian people which is being portrayed in the Western media as a significant change, in both tone and substance, in American policy and an effort to "reach out" to Iran. However, reading the principal substantive portion cited below, one must have serious doubts that it will be viewed in this light by many Iranians.

"My administration is now committed to diplomacy that addresses the full range of issues before us, and to pursuing constructive ties…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."

One may well agree that improving relations between the two countries "will not be advanced by threats", but who has has been threatening whom? Has Iran been threatening a "preventive" (i.e., unprovoked and aggressive) attack on the United States? Has Iran been insisting that "military action" remains "on the table" if the United States does not bow to Iranian demands?


However, particularly since President Obama is a man of intelligence, a more cynical and sinister interpetation of this public show of "reaching out" must also be considered. After the Iraq debacle, further wars of aggression are a "hard sell". If "military action" (Israeli, American or combined) against Iran really does remain "on the table" (and President Obama, who could have taken it off the table, has not chosen to do so), it will be essential to convince American and other Western public opinion that the United States has "gone the extra mile" toward "reaching out" for a peaceful resolution of its dispute with Iran -- and been irrationally repulsed, thereby conclusively demonstrating Iran's evil intentions and justifying "military action" against it.

In this scenario, the pot-calling-the-kettle-black content of this videotaped statement might be explained by its actually be addressed to American and other Western public opinion (which would be unlikely to find anything jarring in it) rather than to Iranian public opinion. Dennis Ross, recently named as Hillary Clinton's special advisor for Iran, is publicly on the record as favoring a brief but visibly intensified "diplomatic" effort to convince Iran to bow to Israeli/American demands -- which would, inevitably and necessarily, be unsuccessful -- before proceeding on to the attack on Iran which he deems essential to protect Israel's security interests.

If Dennis Ross recommended that President Obama celebrate the Persian New Year in this peculiar manner (or even wrote the statement read by the president), the cynical and sinister view may, unfortunately, be the more realistic one.

Who suggested and wrote that statement? That's a good question.

Posted by: andrew | Mar 21 2009 18:14 utc | 10

For what it's worth, a personal anecdote:

The salon up the street from me is owned by ... well, they're Americans of Iranian descent. They speak to their extended family in Iran almost daily. In the spring and summer, we trade vegetables from our gardens (the Iranian melon (kind of like a cantaloupe) is much tastier than American versions).

Anyway, when I ask them about Iranian politics (with respect to the US), their attitude seems somewhat dismissive. They don't think there's going to be a war, or even a conflict, and they see all the political posturing as just that: posturing. The day-to-day lives of normal people are mostly unaffected.

The only exceptional anger that's been mentioned were two brothers deported in the shadow of 9/11. They both lost their businesses and citizenship, and they're apparently still mad about that.

Posted by: Jeremiah | Mar 21 2009 18:52 utc | 11

I assume the US is trying to get out of Iraq and Afghanistan for a reason. Attacking Iran would not help.

Posted by: outsider | Mar 21 2009 19:02 utc | 12

Reply to # 10 Andrew

Sending friendly New Year message to Iran and Iranian is not a new policy, has been practiced by previous US administrations consistently. Last time Bush did it via VOA.
Obama’s message does not offer meaningful change .Zionists neocons well aware of possibilities of some kinds of direct contacts and rapprochement, and they have done their outmost not only to be included but be in control of such initiatives and that is why they insisted to force in menis Denis Ross for sabotage if not redirect. They did the same during Reagan’s secret deal with Iran and Mac Farlane trip to Iran with fake passport and inclusion of two Israeli among US delegation that turned into disaster as Zionist intended. ( Elliot Abraham was involve in that deal as well)

I suspect Idea of sending message to Iran in principle is tradition but I suspect this has been done in coordination with Israel. .
As for text of mess gage, definitely there is some US Iranian contribution to the language. These folks might contribute to the language of text.

Valerie (Born in Shiraz Sadi burial),8599,1858012,00.html

, Nasr (Iranian member of COFR - along with Zakaria, Ajami, Elliot Abraham)

Posted by: Loyal | Mar 21 2009 19:24 utc | 13

If Obama really wants to hit the reset button with Russia, he better start taking a look at the years-long Pentagon drive into the Black Sea. Because that ain't helping.

Posted by: anderson | Mar 21 2009 20:31 utc | 14

If this is merely an attempt to offer the illusion of real diplomacy while more aggressive policies are planned, then Iran needs to tread carefully. Perhaps they can turn the tables. Issue a public and formal invitation to Obama to visit Tehran. He has put himself in a put up or shut up situation. If he refuses, then Iran will appear as the reasonable party seeking negotiation. If he agrees then Iran gains tremendous prestige. And if Obama is sincere, then better relations are in the offing.

In my view, though, Obama's message is significant and likely sincere. Politically, he has to offer concessions to the right wingers. He can not say he unconditionally accepts Iran's "meddling" in Lebanon, Iraq, etc. and it's anti-zionist stance. He has to let them think he is trying diplomacy simply to gain support for harsher measures later.

I'm much more sanguine about the speech than most here. As for Peres, my guess is he wanted to sabotage it. My hope is Iran will dismiss his childish lecture and thinly veiled insults and focus on Obama's message.

Posted by: Lysander | Mar 21 2009 21:58 utc | 15

I think the point of Obama's Nawruz message to Iran was that it was done so publicly (Bush's efforts were more low key). I don't know whether that was done deliberately, or simply a product of the White House publicity machine. However it must have stuck in the gullets of the Israeli crazies.

Talking of the Israelis, I see zero positive moves on the part of Obama towards an attack on Iran, as they desire. It looks to me as though Obama is ducking on this issue, as he ducked on criticising Israel over Gaza.

You can see his position. AIPAC is so dominant now, and there's the election in three years time, with preparations even sooner. Better to do nothing, whatever he really thinks. More important to be re-elected, than to go down in glory in an act of justice.

That smells to me of nothing happening on the Iran front, neither war nor peace. He doesn't want to offend Israel, but he doesn't want to make war either.

Posted by: Alex | Mar 21 2009 22:01 utc | 16

The Iranian leaders are entrenched in their religious ideologies. There are plenty of people there willing to die for their beliefs. Obama is still looking for a church home. He quit the one he really wanted to be in Trinity Baptist, because of political pressure. People in Persia are willing to die rather than submit to change brought on by political pressure. Bush knew that and that is why he didn't make concessions. If you atart making concessions, you will have to continue to make concessions. You are dealing with two mindsets. The Iranians and others of Persia have been fighting the ideological war since time immortal and are looking for eternal rather than temporal rewards. Obama sacrificed twenty years of association with Trinity for temporal rewards. People of strong conviction will see that as a weakness and believe that Obama cannot survive the grit of battle, especially if public pressure is put on him. Right or wrong, Bush didn't compromise his resolve because of public pressure. God chose a boy of peace to take down Goliath. He didn't tell him to speak words but to hit Goliath with the weapon he had, a sling shot. Why are we afraid of Iran and it's potential nuclear capability? Don't we have nukes also. Zapata the Mexican revolutionary said "I would rather die on my feet than live on my knees".When the people of the United States get that attitude then we will defeat extermism. I don't think we have to fight on foreign soil either. Just tell the terroists that we are strong and to come get us. When the people of the United Sates, not just the military, decide to sacrifice the temporal and die for their beliefs then no extremist group will harm us. I don't think Obama's ways will work as noble as they may sound. I might believe in his intestinal fortitude had he stuck with his church, in spite of his Pastor. Sorry if peace works then why is the religious war still raging? It has raged since man's history began and will rage until man's hsitory is over and then will come the eternal victory.

Posted by: Native son | Mar 21 2009 22:58 utc | 17

Talking about Iran, I've noted that many "paleocons" and realists seem to suggest a rapprochement to Iran in order to try to balance Israel's and her lobby's weight (you can see, for example, Giraldi's last article ). I find this idea (and its realisation) quite utopistic, to say the least, but it seems to have followers, even if in a small ambient like that.

And, whatever, US need Iran's help in Afghanistan, now. Peres & Co. can rise their tones how much they want, but until Afghanistan will not be a more quiet place (for Western troops, at least), no war against Tehran.

Posted by: andrew | Mar 21 2009 23:03 utc | 18

to outsider @13: my understanding is that Afghanistan is loaded with minerals - everything but diamonds - and that the US will be providing security while the Chinese mine them. If so, I seriously doubt that we are planning to leave. Unless our $ becomes a laughingstock.

I may be wrong - what other information is out there about this?

What a lively group we have here - eh!, as we double citizens say from Canada -

Posted by: lambent1 | Mar 21 2009 23:14 utc | 19

the Iranians will understand that this is as close to a Mandela-moment as they are going to get from a President of the USA. And likewise, its not like Obama expects they are going to line up to kiss his feet just because.

Posted by: jony_b_cool | Mar 22 2009 1:48 utc | 20

Iranians are quite used to serenades from American presidents: “We respect your country. We admire your rich history, your vibrant culture and your many contributions to civilization.” That was George Bush in 2006.

That says it all, I think. And check this.

Posted by: ptw | Mar 22 2009 18:59 utc | 21

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