- By Laura RozenLaura Rozen writes The Cable daily at ForeignPolicy.com.
As American audiences tuned into his appearance on the "Tonight Show with Jay Leno," President Obama tonight issued a notable video message aimed at the Iranian people and their leaders on the occasion of Nowruz, the traditional New Year’s celebration in Iran and across much of Central Asia.
"In this season of new beginnings I would like to speak clearly to Iran’s leaders," Obama says in the English-language recording, which is subtitled in Farsi. "We have serious differences that have grown over time. 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."
"This process will not be advanced by threats," Obama continues. "We seek instead engagement that is honest and grounded in mutual respect."
"This is huge," said Trita Parsi, president of the National Iranian American Council, a group that supports U.S. engagement with Tehran. "First of all, he is addressing the people and the government, which has not been done before. At one point he talks about the Islamic Republic. He’s signaling he’s not looking for regime change; he’s recognizing Iran’s system.
"You always heard Rice and Bush say ‘Iranian regime,’" Parsi noted. “It’s a big difference.” That doesn’t mean Obama doesn’t support Iranian democratization, Parsi said. "But he recognizes the government that exists in Iran right now."
Parsi also found remarkable Obama’s comments that he recognized Iran has a "rightful role among nations."
"When he is saying the U.S. seeks constructive ties between the U.S., Iran, and international community," Parsi added, "that is signaling strategic intent. He is making it clear is that where he wants to end up through diplomacy which he supports is a constructive, positive relationship with Iran, to put aside our enmity. That is huge."
Asked if Obama’s message to Iran signals a concerted public diplomacy effort related to the Iran policy review underway, the White House official responded: "He’s making clear to the Iranian people and government the future that he sees for the two countries and that we’re prepared to engage in direct diplomacy."
Full text below:
Today I want to extend my very best wishes to all who are celebrating Nowruz around the world.
This holiday is both an ancient ritual and a moment of renewal, and I hope that you enjoy this special time of year with friends and family.
In particular, I would like to speak directly to the people and leaders of the Islamic Republic of Iran. Nowruz is just one part of your great and celebrated culture. Over many centuries your art, your music, literature and innovation have made the world a better and more beautiful place.
Here in the United States our own communities have been enhanced by the contributions of Iranian Americans. We know that you are a great civilization, and your accomplishments have earned the respect of the United States and the world.
For nearly three decades relations between our nations have been strained. But at this holiday we are reminded of the common humanity that binds us together. Indeed, you will be celebrating your New Year in much the same way that we Americans mark our holidays — by gathering with friends and family, exchanging gifts and stories, and looking to the future with a renewed sense of hope.
Within these celebrations lies the promise of a new day, the promise of opportunity for our children, security for our families, progress for our communities, and peace between nations. Those are shared hopes, those are common dreams.
So in this season of new beginnings I would like to speak clearly to Iran’s leaders. We have serious differences that have grown over time. 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. This process will not be advanced by threats. We seek instead engagement that is honest and grounded in mutual respect.
You, too, have a choice. 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.
So on the occasion of your New Year, I want you, the people and leaders of Iran, to understand the future that we seek. It’s a future with renewed exchanges among our people, and greater opportunities for partnership and commerce. It’s a future where the old divisions are overcome, where you and all of your neighbors and the wider world can live in greater security and greater peace.
I know that this won’t be reached easily. There are those who insist that we be defined by our differences. 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."
With the coming of a new season, we’re reminded of this precious humanity that we all share. And we can once again call upon this spirit as we seek the promise of a new beginning.
Thank you, and Eid-eh Shoma Mobarak.
UPDATE: More reaction and analysis from University of Hawaii Iran expert Farideh Farhi and the Carnegie Endowment’s Karim Sadjadpour: "With Obama having clearly expressed his support for reconciliation with Iran, this becomes an internal Iranian battle, and unfortunately, it won’t be resolved anytime soon. But Obama shows in this video that instead of tipping the scales in favor of the radicals, as the Bush administration did, he will pursue diplomacy to undermine their narrative that a hostile U.S. government is bent on oppressing Iran."
Farhi analyzes Khamenei’s response: "The bottom line is: ‘Our nation dislikes it when you again proclaim ‘talks with pressure’; we talk to Iran while we pressure them as well – threat and inducement. You cannot talk to our nation this way.’"