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When Will the Ice Melt in Iran-US Relations?

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Mohammad Khajouei

Nowruz, or the new Iranian year (1388) started with an exchange of verbal but different messages between Iranian and American leaders. US President Barack Obama released a video message addressed to the people and leaders of Iran on the occasion of the new solar year in which he admired the Iranian nation’s history and cultural heritage and voiced Washington’s readiness to settle bilateral differences with Tehran. In response, IRI leaders too announced they were ready to mend ties provided that the US revised its hostile policies and behaviors towards Iran.

Recalling the Persian saying that “a good beginning augurs well for an undertaking” the question is will the new Iranian year augur a different year in Tehran-Washington relations? Naturally the disputes between Iran and the US over the past three decades are so big that a mere exchange of messages of this kind would not be enough to resolve them; but they would not be unproductive either.

Undoubtedly, the message issued by Obama which has a polite and mild tone is noteworthy compared to what his predecessors said in their messages but the question is to what extent this could be helpful?

Obama has opted for the policy of “change” in an attempt to make up for the wrong policies of his predecessor George Bush who brought America reduced strategic credit and prestige, including Bush’s erroneous policies vis-à-vis Tehran.

If Obama is really convinced that his predecessors’ Iran policies were wrong and if he really wants to reach out to Iran and Iranians he should take some practical steps to show that he is serious and his way would be different from former American heads of state.

If the US which officially cut off diplomatic ties with Iran in April 1980 really wants rapprochement with Iran it must take one step forward and show its goodwill in practice. How nice would it have been for Obama if he postponed (if not refused) extension of anti-Iran sanctions law which is endorsed by the American statesmen every year just a few days before he released his Nowruz message as a goodwill gesture or ordered unblocking of frozen Iranian assets in American banks! How good would it have been if Obama did not accuse Iran of supporting terrorism or trying to obtain nuclear weapons this time though in a different language!

It is only natural for Iran which has strong security concerns over Washington’s regional operations to take actions towards removing these worries. Nevertheless, the IRI has made every effort for the cause of security, peace and stability in the Middle East. Iran’s cooperation and efforts in consolidating stability in Afghanistan and Iraq and its support for national sovereignty in these countries are not hidden to anyone.

America cannot expect much from Iran through a mere change of tone without changing its outlook towards Iran or by continuing its hostile policies against Tehran. It has to be reiterated that many of Iran’s behaviors stem from US actions with Iranian security domain. Obviously if these concerns are done away with Iran too would change its behavior. IRI Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in response to Obama’s Nowruz message clearly stated: “If you change, our behavior too will change.”

Iranian leaders have said time and again that Iran has no hostility towards the people of America and that if the US administration too adopts a fair behavior in compliance with international rules there would be no hostility towards them either. Differences between Tehran and Washington would be settled on the negotiation table and this would require patience, serenity, effort and above all mutual respect.

It is hoped that Nowruz which spreads the message of peace, friendship and coexistence throughout the world and even encourages the US president to hail this great Iranian tradition could mark a significant turning point in Tehran-Washington relations based on mutual respect something that both the people of Iran and America want.

The ice in Iran-US relation, no matter how big it is, would gradually melt provided it is out of the cold storage. Naturally, the road will be difficult but with hope we live!

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