Last Updated:Friday - 09/24/2010
March 30, 2009
Obama takes a step toward peace with Iran
What a difference a year can make! A year ago, there were serious concerns that U.S. President George W. Bush's last hurrah would be a military attack on Iran – a reckless act if there ever was one. Now, the new American president, Barack Obama, has extended an olive leaf to the Iranian people and, most notably, the Iranian government on the occasion of the Persian new year celebration, Nowruz.
Obama lauded Iran's "great and celebrated culture" and appealed to "the common humanity that binds us together" in a March 20 video message. His administration is committed to diplomacy with Iran, he said, and foresees opportunities for partnerships and overcoming the divisions of the past 30 years.
Words will not end Iranian hostility to the U.S., Israel and whoever else excites the passions of the Islamic republic. But words are a good place to start.
Ayatollah Ali Khameini brushed aside Obama's speech, complaining that he continued to brand Iran as a terrorist nation. But Khameini left the door open for rapprochement, saying, "Should you change, our behaviour will change too."
The media advisor to President Mahmound Ahmadinejad called on the U.S. to admit its mistakes of the past – a litany that includes support for the shah's coup in 1953, shooting down an airliner, supporting Iraq in the brutal war of the 1980s and labeling the country as part of "the Axis of Evil."
The man has a point. All those Iranians shouting "Death to America" didn't get fired up over nothing. If Obama is going to start meaningful dialogue with Iran, there are going to have to be more words – including an admission that some American actions in relation to Iran were themselves pretty much equivalent to terrorism.
The time for a diplomatic breakthrough may be short. Israel believes that by the end of the year Iran will have the capacity to build nuclear weapons. If Israel launches a pre-emptive strike against Iranian nuclear facilities, hopes for diplomacy will be extinguished.
Israeli President Shimon Peres sent a mistake of his own to Iranians at Nowruz – end your country's uranium enrichment program and overthrow the government. It is hard to fathom what such sabre-rattling is supposed to accomplish.
Iran, of course, does have plenty of faults of its own. The defeat of the hot-headed, erratic Ahmadinejad in this summer's presidential elections would signal that Iranians too want a conciliatory approach.
When in 1991 the U.S. invaded Iraq – a country with a much smaller population and much less significant international stature than Iran – Pope John Paul II called the invasion "an adventure without return." It is that much more urgent that peaceful relations be established with Iran. Obama has taken one small, but significant, step in that direction. May there be many more.
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