The Nowrūz Message

Yesterday was NowrÅ«z, the Iranian New Year’s, a spring holiday whose celebration by Iranian peoples goes back more than 2,500 years. President Obama sent a televised message to the Iranians in recognition of the day:

There’s nothing particularly revolutionary or even novel about that. President Bush made a couple of NowrÅ«z messages. Certainly, the tone of President Obama’s message was somewhat different than those of President Bush, whose messages were either intended for an Iranian-American audience or a stab at dividing the people of Iran from the Iranian government.

I didn’t mention President Obama’s message yesterday because I wanted to wait for the other shoe to drop. Now it has and so I will. Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the Supreme Leader of Iran and the most powerful individual in the country, has responded to the message:

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — Iran’s supreme leader rebuffed President Barack Obama’s latest outreach on Saturday, saying Tehran was still waiting to see concrete changes in U.S. policy.

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei was responding to a video message Obama released Friday in which he reached out to Iran on the occasion of Nowruz, the Persian new year, and expressed hopes for an improvement in nearly 30 years of strained relations.

Khamenei holds the last word on major policy decisions, and how Iran ultimately responds to any concrete U.S. effort to engage the country will depend largely on his say.

In his most direct assessment of Obama and prospects for better ties, Khamenei said there will be no change between the two countries unless the American president puts an end to U.S. hostility toward Iran and brings ”real changes” in foreign policy.

”They chant the slogan of change but no change is seen in practice. We haven’t seen any change,” Khamenei said in a speech before a crowd of tens of thousands in the northeastern holy city of Mashhad.

In his video message, Obama said the United States wants to engage Iran, but he also warned that a right place for Iran in the international community ”cannot be reached through terror or arms, but rather through peaceful actions that demonstrate the true greatness of the Iranian people and civilization.”

Khamenei asked how Obama could congratulate Iranians on the new year and accuse the country of supporting terrorism and seeking nuclear weapons in the same message.

The full text of President Obama’s speech is here. He doesn’t mention nuclear weapons; The Supreme Leader’s remarks are a non sequitur as far as President Obama’s message is concerned.

I’m in favor of negotiating with Iran but if the Obama Administration is under the misapprehension that we don’t have active ongoing formal negotiations with the Iranian government because of the recalcitrance of the Bush Administration they are seriously mistaken. Every American administration since the revolution that overthrew the Shah in 1979 has done or attempted some back channel negotiations with Iran. That includes the George W. Bush Administration. Occasionally, the Iranians have opened some back channel negotiations with us. Occasionally, our overtures have been rebuffed by the Iranians.

The reason that we don’t have ongoing formal negotiations with the Iranian government is that it’s difficult. As an illustration of how difficult it is, when President Obama announced his willingness to begin negotiating with the Iranian government without preconditions, they responded with a list of their preconditions.

This latest incident in which President Obama extends an olive branch which the Iranian leader shoves back is yet another instance. And that he would bring up a list of old scores as preconditions for talks is shrewd bargaining. Why negotiate when you can get what you want as a condition for coming to the negotiating table?

Iran continues to play a weak hand well while we play a strong hand badly. If we’re going to achieve results that are mutually acceptable through negotiations with Iran, we’re going to need to be much cannier negotiators with Iran than we have been.

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Dave Schuler
About Dave Schuler
Over the years Dave Schuler has worked as a martial arts instructor, a handyman, a musician, a cook, and a translator. He's owned his own company for the last thirty years and has a post-graduate degree in his field. He comes from a family of politicians, teachers, and vaudeville entertainers. All-in-all a pretty good preparation for blogging. He has contributed to OTB since November 2006 but mostly writes at his own blog, The Glittering Eye, which he started in March 2004.


  1. Triumph says:

    Any “Nowruz” message we send to these Islamo-crazies should be placed on the end of a nuclear bomb.

    Of course, B. Hussein is in cahoots with his moselm brothers so we can’t expect relief from terrorism any time soon.

  2. Dantheman says:

    “Iran continues to play a weak hand well while we play a strong hand badly. If we’re going to achieve results that are mutually acceptable through negotiations with Iran, we’re going to need to be much cannier negotiators with Iran than we have been.”

    I am going to disagree. At the very worst, Obama’s message is going to be well received by the people we need for multilateral actions (starting with sanctions) to succeed. Offering to talk respectfully and showing that the other side is not interested in doing so will likely lead to greater cooperation among our potential allies.

    Hostile rhetoric (of the sort preferred by the prior Administration) which pushes away those whose help we need is how to play a good hand badly. This is playing a good hand patiently.

  3. Kevin says:

    Interesting, Dave. Didn’t realize Bush had done similar.

  4. KVC says:

    Didn’t the Iranians learn the precondition to the meeting from the PLO and Arafat? Oh yea, which president was that?

  5. legion says:

    I’m going to have to agree with Dan. So what if Khameni gave us the cold shoulder – what did anyone (including, I’m quite certain, Obama) expect? That strange feeling you have? It’s called “having the moral high ground”. It’s something Americans haven’t been able to claim for a few years now…

  6. Michael says:

    The Supreme Leader’s remarks are a non sequitur as far as President Obama’s message is concerned.

    Are you so sure about that? It seems an awful sloppy mistake to make. I think it was intentional, I’m just not sure what the message behind it was, a threat or an admission?

    I’d like Obama’s next message to specifically address Iranian politicians like Rafsanjani and Khatami, without addressing the President or Supreme Leader.

  7. Christopher says:

    Dantheman, when are you coming back to this planet?

    And Dave, I guess this is one of the few promises Obama has kept so far. He said he was gonna to this, and now he has. He admitted what an idiot move he would make like this, he made it, and now it is proving to be an idiot move. Perfect!

  8. sam says:

    If anybody knows about idiot moves, it’s Christopher.

  9. Bithead says:

    Iran continues to play a weak hand well while we play a strong hand badly.

    It’s called kissing the backside we oughta be kicking. It’s something we’ve seen out of Democrats for generations now… to the point where it’s become quite predictable.

  10. Franklin says:

    As an address to the Iranian people, this was much better than calling them evil, which had the direct result of putting more hard-liners in power. Eight years ago, the majority of Persians had a positive view of America. This is no longer true and it ain’t because of Democrats.

  11. Dantheman says:

    Christopher’s comment to me wins the Triple Crown — no connection to the comment it is referring, pointless ad hominem, and no actual substance. Party on, dude!