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Obama’s Nowruz Message, Take Two

Late last night — morning in Tehran; and the 30th anniversary of the revolutionary storming of the U.S. embassy there — President Obama issued a statement to Iran reminiscent of his Nowruz message to the Iranian people seeking a better relationship. After months of official rebuff; a massive domestic uprising in Iran that continues; and intensified recent intransigence on nuclear diplomacy, this message is somewhat less patient.

Thirty years ago today, the American Embassy in Tehran was seized. The 444 days that began on November 4, 1979 deeply affected the lives of courageous Americans who were unjustly held hostage, and we owe these Americans and their families our gratitude for their extraordinary service and sacrifice.

This event helped set the United States and Iran on a path of sustained suspicion, mistrust, and confrontation. I have made it clear that the United States of America wants to move beyond this past, and seeks a relationship with the Islamic Republic of Iran based upon mutual interests and mutual respect. We do not interfere in Iran’s internal affairs. We have condemned terrorist attacks against Iran. We have recognized Iran’s international right to peaceful nuclear power. We have demonstrated our willingness to take confidence-building steps along with others in the international community. We have accepted a proposal by the International Atomic Energy Agency to meet Iran’s request for assistance in meeting the medical needs of its people. We have made clear that if Iran lives up to the obligations that every nation has, it will have a path to a more prosperous and productive relationship with the international community.

Iran must choose. We have heard for thirty years what the Iranian government is against; the question, now, is what kind of future it is for. The American people have great respect for the people of Iran and their rich history. The world continues to bear witness to their powerful calls for justice, and their courageous pursuit of universal rights. It is time for the Iranian government to decide whether it wants to focus on the past, or whether it will make the choices that will open the door to greater opportunity, prosperity, and justice for its people.

Notice the subtle reference to the Iranian uprising. (“The world continues to bear witness to their powerful calls for justice, and their courageous pursuit of universal rights.”) That’s probably in there to acknowledge that the opposition intends to subvert today’s anniversary of the embassy siege, as is happening right now.

Obama gave his message shortly after a speech by Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamanei, described in this Washington Post story. Khamanei didn’t formally reject diplomatic outreach with the United States, despite the Post’s headline. (See, for instance, this New York Times description.) But he called talks “naive and perverted” as long as the U.S. harbors unspecified hostile intentions toward Iran, presumably meaning sanctions packages that are moving through the Hill.

It’s tempting to view the speech as standard-issue demagogy on a charged anniversary. But the Iranians have yet to send a clear signal that they actually welcome diplomacy with the United States, no matter how much outreach Obama presents.

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