Obama Tells Iran to Seek New Links With U.S., World

Daily News Article   —   Posted on March 20, 2009

(by Kim Chipman and Ladane Nasseri, News.Yahoo.com) Bloomberg News Service – President Barack Obama urged Iran to opt for peace over “terror or arms,” forging diplomatic ties with the world, and an adviser to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad responded that the U.S. should lift sanctions.

“We have serious differences that have grown over time,” Obama told Iran’s leaders in a video message released by the administration today. “My administration is now committed to diplomacy that addresses the full range of issues before us, and to pursuing constructive ties among the United States, Iran and the international community.”

Obama, who campaigned on a pledge to seek engagement with U.S. foes, said the effort to re-establish relations won’t be “advanced by threats.”

The U.S. and Iran are entangled in a dispute over the Persian Gulf nation’s nuclear program, which the U.S. contends is a cover for developing weapons. Iran denies that the program has military aims, saying it’s trying to produce more electricity for a growing population.

The U.S. broke diplomatic ties with Iran almost three decades ago after Iranian militants [took over the U.S. Embassy in Tehran and] held 52 Americans hostages … for 444 days.

“We welcome the overcoming of the problems between the two nations, the solving of issues that run deep,” Ali Akbar Javanfekr, media adviser to Ahmadinejad, said in a telephone interview. “The good intention should be put into action, otherwise differences will remain as fire under the ashes.”

Lift Economic Sanctions

Javanfekr said Obama must lift the sanctions imposed on Iran for pursuing its nuclear program, and admit past mistakes, such as support for Saddam Hussein’s Iraqi regime during the 1980-88 war with Iran, the 1988 downing of an Iranian airliner by the U.S. Navy in the Strait of Hormuz and support for a 1953 coup d’etat in Tehran to ensure oil supplies to the West.

“There is a need for more than talks,” Javanfekr said. “Obama needs to show that he believes what he is saying.”

[President] Obama timed his message to coincide with the ancient festival of Nowruz, the new year holiday that originated in Iran and has spread to other regions of the world. “We seek instead engagement that is honest and grounded in mutual respect.”

“On the occasion of your New Year, I want you, the people and leaders of Iran, to understand the future that we seek,” Obama said. “It’s a future with renewed exchanges among our people, and greater opportunities for partnership and commerce” and “greater security and greater peace.”

Iraq Strategy

Iran also has an impact on U.S. strategy in Iraq. The American military accuses Iran of arming militants in Iraq, which has been struggling to overcome sectarian and insurgent violence following the U.S.-led invasion of the country to oust President Saddam Hussein in 2003. U.S. fighter jets shot down an Iranian drone flying over Iraq Feb. 25, the Defense Department said.

The video is being distributed to news outlets in the region in English with Farsi subtitles and available for broadcast at about 8 a.m. in Iran, according to material the Obama administration provided with a text. It was billed as an unconventional attempt to get the attention of Iranians and their leaders.

“I hope that will open a new chapter in relations with Tehran,” European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana told reporters today in Brussels, where he is attending a summit of EU leaders. “The offer is a very good offer.”

In the video, Obama praised Iran’s “great and celebrated culture.”

‘Great Civilization’

“We know that you are a great civilization, and your accomplishments have earned the respect of the United States and the world,” Obama said.

The U.S. president said he knows it will be difficult to move beyond the conflicts.

“There are those who insist that we be defined by our differences,” Obama said.

“But let us remember the words that were written by the poet Saadi, so many years ago: ‘The children of Adam are limbs to each other, having been created of one essence,'” he said, referring to the medieval Persian poet.

“The apology isn’t going to happen,” said Ali Ansari, Director of the Institute for Iranian studies at the University of St. Andrews. “The demand for an apology is simply a way for the Iranians to bide their time.”

“Obama is doing as much as he can at the moment,” said Ansari, who also advises European governments at the London- based Chatham House, a consultant on foreign policy. “I don’t think anything is going to happen before the election” of Iran’s next president on June. 12.

‘Imperialistic Policies’

Iran’s Ahmadinejad said last month that his country is waiting for the U.S. to show “signs of real change” under the Obama administration, calling it “a necessity” for improving relations between the two countries.

Ahmadinejad, who is critical of the U.S. for what he calls “imperialistic” policies and for seeking to destabilize Iran’s cleric-led regime, said his government is ready for negotiations based “on mutual respect.”

Obama repeatedly has said he is prepared to engage in talks with Iranian officials to try to solve differences, in particular over Iran’s nuclear activities. Iran is “beyond the issue of suspension” of uranium enrichment activities, Ahmadinejad said in a Feb. 17 interview with Iranian state television.

International Atomic Energy Agency Director-General Mohamed ElBaradei said at a conference last month in Paris that Iran is more than a year away from being able to make a nuclear weapon, leaving time for diplomacy.

To contact the reporters on this story: Kim Chipman in Washington at kchipman@bloomberg.net; Ladane Nasseri in Tehran at lnasseri@bloomberg.net.

Reprinted here for educational purposes only. May not be reproduced on other websites without permission from Yahoo News.  Visit the website at news.yahoo.com.

Questions

 1. When and why did the U.S. break off diplomatic ties with Iran?

2. a) How did Iranian President Ahmadinejad’s spokesman Ali Akbar Javanfekr respond to President Obama’s video attempt to re-establish relations with Iran?
b) Considering their cultures, how do you think Iran and the Arab world would view the U.S. if the President complied with Iran’s demands?

3. In his video message, what type of future did President Obama say the U.S. is seeking with Iran?

4. How is Iran acting against the U.S. in Iraq?

5. a) How is the White House billing President Obama’s video message to Iran?
b) Watch President Obama’s three minute video message to Iran at WhiteHouse.gov two times. What did you like/dislike about the President’s message? Explain your answers.

6. The Iranian government and President Ahmadinejad have consistently called for death to fellow United Nations members Israel and the U.S. Watch some of the videos of President Ahmadinejad at at youtube.com/watch?v=FckLO8HcNyo.
The Iranian government denies that it is building nuclear weapons, but the rest of the world believes that they are–and that they will use them.  Do you think that President Obama’s speech will have any effect on U.S. relations with Iran? Do you support his idea to appeal to the Iranian government in this way? Explain your answers.

7. What do you think about President Obama’s understanding of the true nature of the Iranian government: is he naive and/or unwilling to face the truth, or is he a brilliant strategist? Explain your answer.


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Background

  • Iran’s 20 year secret nuclear program was discovered in 2002.  Iran says its program is for fuel purposes only, but it has been working on uranium enrichment which is used to make nuclear bombs. 
  • Under the  NPT (Non Proliferation Treaty) countries are not allowed to make nuclear weapons (except for the 5 that had nuclear weapons prior to the treaty – the U.S., Russia, China, France, the United Kingdom).
  • Safeguards are used to verify compliance with the Treaty through inspections conducted by the UN’s IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency). 
  • The U.N.’s nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, issued a report Monday on Sept. 15, 2008 that said Iran has repeatedly blocked an investigation into its nuclear program and the probe is now deadlocked.
  • The U.N. Security Council has already imposed three sets of sanctions on Iran over its nuclear defiance.  Despite the sanctions, Iran has refused to end its nuclear program.
  • France called the Sept. 15th findings “very worrisome” and called for new U.N. sanctions against Iran, and the U.S. spoke of “the possibility of new sanctions” if Iran continues to defy the U.N.
  • However, Russia and China, who like the U.S. and France have veto power over U.N. Security Council resolutions, would likely resist a fourth round of sanctions against Iran. Britain, the fifth veto-wielding member of the Security Council, is aligned with the U.S. and France.
  • The Iranian government has called for the destruction of Israel on numerous occasions.  It is believed that once obtained, Iranian President Ahmadinejad would use nuclear weapons against Israel.

Resources

Watch President Obama’s video message to the Iranian government at WhiteHouse.gov.

Watch videos of what others are saying about Iran at youtube.com/thefinalmove.