Leading article: A nation that is too important to be ignored

Barack Obama's message to Iran is nothing short of revolutionary

Share
Related Topics

True to his word, President Obama has now come up with a direct offer for "a new beginning" in American-Iranian relations. His video message yesterday, released to coincide with the Iranian spring festival of Nowruz, was radical in its form and emollient in its language. No one expects a single video by an US president to transform Iran and America into bosom allies. Indeed, judging from the initial reaction by Tehran's leadership, it may not produce much immediate response at all.

But coming after the uncompromising rhetoric of the Bush years, when Iran was castigated as a promoter of terrorism in the Middle East and a rogue state bent on developing nuclear weapons, the tone of Mr Obama's message is a positive turnaround in language. And after the years of isolation and sanctions which the Bush administration ratcheted up with its European allies in an effort to get Iran to stop all uranium enrichment, President Obama's readiness to move from threats of military action to solid diplomacy is nothing short of revolutionary.

On the specifics of Iraqi security after US withdrawal and Afghanistan reconstruction, the scope for co-operation between Washington and Tehran is considerable. Iran has obvious interests as well as influence in post-war Iraq. The same is true in Afghanistan, where Iran has always been a bitter foe of the Taliban. Even before Mr Obama was elected, the Bush administration was moving to an accommodation with Iran on these issues. Now that Mr Obama is proceeding with troop withdrawals from Iraq and a new policy consideration in Afghanistan, those tentative dealings could be upgraded.

Here is where the caveats come in, however. A "new beginning" offers up a host of possibilities that were previously closed, but it does not bring about a breakthrough in itself. And when it comes to Iran's nuclear ambitions, matters become more difficult and more urgent. Tehran's leaders have consistently denied they intend to manufacture a nuclear weapon, but have been adamant over their right to pursue civilian nuclear power. Washington, and its European allies, distrust the assurances and have demanded a halt to all enrichment. And so the question has been stuck in a cul-de-sac of threat and isolation.

There is nothing in Mr Obama's message that suggests a change in this policy. Given the pressures of a Congress eager for signs of weakness in the new President, Mr Obama has probably little choice but to tread carefully. Even if he wanted a quick breakthrough, the Iranian political situation might well make that impossible. Presidential elections take place in June and campaigning has already started in earnest, with President Ahmadinejad under considerable pressure thanks to his poor economic record. No one can be quite sure whether the reformers have a chance of regaining the post and whether the recent withdrawal of their most popular candidate, the ex-president Mohammad Khatami, is a blow to their cause or could help by reducing the number of reformist candidates on the ballot.

Iran's opaque system of theocratic rule means it is not an easy country to deal with. And the recent arrest and detention of the American journalist Roxana Saberi shows how far Iran is from being ready to join the international fold.

But this country is too important to be ignored. And it has too much to offer the wider region to be kept isolated. If Mr Obama's message does indeed provide a new beginning, it can only be for the good.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Manager / Sales - OTE £45,000

£35000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is a solutions / s...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £45,000

£18000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Executive is required t...

Recruitment Genius: Test Development Engineer

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you inspired to bring new a...

Recruitment Genius: Trainee Motor Engineer

£14000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Kennedy campaign for the Lib Dems earlier this year in Bearsden  

Charles Kennedy: A brilliant man whose talents were badly needed

Baroness Williams
Nick Clegg (R) Liberal Democrat Leader and former leader Charles Kennedy MP, joined the general election campaign trail on April 8, 2010  

Charles Kennedy: The only mainstream political leader who spoke sense

Tim Farron
Sepp Blatter resignation: The beginning of Fifa's long road to reform?

Does Blatter's departure mean Fifa will automatically clean up its act?

Don't bet on it, says Tom Peck
Charles Kennedy: The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

Charles Kennedy was consistently a man of the centre-left, dedicated to social justice, but was also a champion of liberty and an opponent of the nanny-state, says Baroness Williams
Syria civil war: The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of this endless conflict

The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of Syria's endless civil war

Sahar Qanbar lost her mother and brother as civilians and government soldiers fought side by side after being surrounded by brutal Islamist fighters. Robert Fisk visited her
The future of songwriting: How streaming is changing everything we know about making music

The future of songwriting

How streaming is changing everything we know about making music
William Shemin and Henry Johnson: Jewish and black soldiers receive World War I Medal of Honor amid claims of discrimination

Recognition at long last

Jewish and black soldiers who fought in WWI finally receive medals after claims of discrimination
Beating obesity: The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters

Beating obesity

The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters
9 best women's festival waterproofs

Ready for rain: 9 best women's festival waterproofs

These are the macs to keep your denim dry and your hair frizz-free(ish)
Cycling World Hour Record: Nervous Sir Bradley Wiggins ready for pain as he prepares to go distance

Wiggins worried

Nervous Sir Bradley ready for pain as he prepares to attempt cycling's World Hour Record
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

Thongs ain't what they used to be

Big knickers are back
Thurston Moore interview

Thurston Moore interview

On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
In full bloom

In full bloom

Floral print womenswear
From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

From leading man to Elephant Man

Bradley Cooper is terrific