I must say that I am stunned by the tone and content of President Obama's message to Iran on the occasion of Iranian New Year or Nowruz. I am stunned because the message was great and on matters related to Iran I am not used to hearing what I like from Washington. So here are some quick thoughts.
Asides from being his gracious self, President Obama did several things that are significant. First and foremost was the fact that, unlike his predecessor, he did not attempt to drive a wedge between the people and government of Iran. He spoke explicitly to both the “people and leaders of the Islamic Republic of Iran,” acknowledging their common history and culture. No more we love the people of Iran but hate their government taunt repeatedly brandished by the Bush Administration.
Second, he did not try to drive a wedge between the leaders of Iran. He addressed them all and in one brilliant move put to rest all the useless chatter about who the Obama administration should talk to. His focus was not on which Iranians the US wishes to talk to ("moderates" or "pragmatists") or should talk to (the ones who “really” wield power) but the fact that the two countries should talk on matters of mutual interest as well as about their differences.
Third, stating his commitment to meaningful diplomacy and avoiding demonizing rhetoric and peremptory demands, he simply stated the basic truth that the two long-time foes now face a chance for “engagement that is honest and grounded in mutual respect” and addresses concerns of both. The process, he said in no uncertain terms, “will not be advanced by threats.”
This is the closest anyone in the US has come to ruling out the military option regarding Iran. Obama did not ignore “serious differences that have gown over time,” but did not validate "those who insist that we be defined by our differences." His commitment was clearly to “diplomacy that addresses the full range of issues” as well as “constructive ties” between the two countries.
Some Iranians, no doubt, will find fault in the following paragraph, deeming it a bit patronizing if not insulting:
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.
But the general tenor of the speech was so different from what the Iranians are used to hearing that my bet at this point is that this part will be mostly ignored. The Iranians have been calling for a serious conversation and Mr. Obama has now promised them one. Let’s see if it happens.