After President Barack Obama sent a video message to Iran appealing for better relations between the two countries, Iran’s leaders wasted no time in replying. On Saturday, supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said,”They chant the slogan of change but no change is seen in practice.” See more from Worldfocus on the response: Iran dismisses Obama’s video message.
Worldfocus editorial consultant Peter Eisner, the former deputy foreign editor of the Washington Post, dissects Khamenei’s statement and both countries’ political positioning.
Don’t expect that 30 years of hostility between the United States and Iran will turn around on a dime, or a rial or a shekel for that matter. But it would be wrong to think that Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has rejected President Obama’s call last week for a change in relations.
Something subtler is going on here. First of all, look at the source: Ayatollah Khamenei is the top leader in Iran. We’re used to hearing President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad ranting about the United States; this time, Ahmadinejad was conspicuously silent. Khamenei’s answer, meanwhile, was mostly a recitation of Iran’s grievances with the United States, along with the comment that nothing has changed. In concrete terms, he was right, even though change is in the air.
From the U.S. side, Obama not only issued his televised greeting last week for the Iranian new year; he also has invited Iran to be part of a solution to the war in Afghanistan. There are also reports that Obama sent former defense secretary William Perry to Iran as a secret emissary to emphasize his interest in improved relations.
Iran, meanwhile, is gearing up for presidential elections on June 12. Any response to Obama’s overtures will play heavily in the campaign, in which Ahmadinejad is expected to be a candidate, though not yet a declared one. There are also reformist candidates, and many Iranian voters are interested in improved relations with the United States.
Obama and Khamenei appear to have one thing in common. While they make public statements, each is making sure not to go too far, too quickly in the direction of rapprochement, minimizing criticism from the right.
In Obama’s case, we can count Israel’s incoming prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, in the hawkish camp. To maintain balance in dealing with Israel, Obama has to go slowly to maintain U.S. leverage with Israel toward larger goals for Middle East peace; some Israelis advocate unilateral bombing of nuclear reactors in Iran.
– Peter Eisner