Obama's Iran overture has huge potential: analysts

20th March 2009, Comments 0 comments

In an unprecedented move, the US President Barack Obama seeks reconciliation with Iran, inviting the country to take its rightful place in the international community.

WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama has made a deft overture to Iran in a videotaped message that could pave the way to ending three decades of bad blood with the United States, experts say.

In opening up to Iran Obama has his eye on bringing peace and stability to Iraq, Afghanistan, Lebanon, Israel and the Palestinian territories as well as fighting the spread of nuclear weapons, they add.

"Iran is central to a resolution to president Obama's toughest foreign policy challenges," said Joe Cirincione, a non-proliferation expert and president of the Ploughshares Fund, a global security foundation.

"These challenges are interconnected and Obama gets that," Cirincione said after AFP read him the text of the message delivered to Iranians and their leaders at the start of Nowruz, the pre-Islamic New Year holiday in Iran.

"We're not used to this – a president that has this comprehensive, integrated and sophisticated foreign policy," he added. "He doesn't feel the need to show US toughness, to draw a red line around the Iranian (nuclear) programme."

He was contrasting Obama's approach with the hardline, confrontational policies pursued by his predecessor George W. Bush, who once lumped Iran in an "axis of evil" with Iraq and North Korea.

Obama may have stuck to generalities, but he alluded to US charges that Iran plays a destructive regional role in supporting militants in neighboring Iraq and Afghanistan as well as in Lebanon and the Palestinian territories.

For example, in inviting Iran to take its place in the world fold after years of isolation, Obama mentioned that "that place cannot be reached through terror or arms, but rather through peaceful actions."

Yet at the heart of his speech was a straightforward and modest appeal to end three decades of bitterness following Iran's Islamic revolution.

Cirincione and Trita Parsi, president of the National Iranian American Council, said the overture is deft because it lacked condescension, addressed Iran's fears and promised a strategic, rather than a tactical, change in ties.

Paranoid about the Bush administration's push for regime change, the Iranian leadership will be reassured that Obama accepts the Islamic nature of the republic, Parsi told AFP.

He cited the key Obama line: "The United States wants the Islamic Republic of Iran to take its rightful place in the community of nations."

Parsi said the Iranian leadership and people will also welcome Obama's call to place long-term over short-term gains, and end the longstanding enmity between Washington and Tehran.

"He's signaling strategic intent. He's talking about an objective of finding constructive relations between Iran and the United States," he added.

"He's making clear that the differences between the two countries cannot be resolved through threats," said Parsi, whose group wants a diplomatic solution to the US showdown with Iran over its nuclear programme.

Parsi sensed that the videotaped message is not about the United States seeking to gain a tactical advantage by reducing tensions in the short term in order to have Iran, for example, help stabilise neighboring Afghanistan.

The Obama administration wants Iran to attend a UN-sponsored conference on Afghanistan in The Hague on 31 March.

Obama is also "using Iranian buzzwords like 'mutual respect," said Parsi. "They want to be there as equal at the negotiating table."

For Cirincione, the respectful tone in the overture is "reminiscent of Nixon's moves toward China" when he opened a strategic dialogue with Beijing and bolstered the US balance of power with the Soviet Union.

Hossein Heirani-Moghaddam, an Iranian expert at the Australian National University in Canberra, hailed the message as a good start.

"This is the first and foremost clear channel of dialogue between the two nations and leaderships," he told AFP. "It's quite positive in every sense. It's what the Iranians wanted to hear."

He agreed the overture held the potential for long-term improvement in US-Iran ties as well as in resolving regional problems where Iran has a stake.

But he urged the Obama administration to follow up the gesture with patient behind-the-scenes diplomacy and to be prepared for bumps along the way as Iran's hardline tide ebbs and flows.

"I think the Iranian leadership will respond positively to it, but will remind the US of its rights and interests," he said.

AFP / Expatica

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