Barack Obama: Building a Bridge with Iran

by Caela

“Change” is probably the most common word we hear today, and even more so in politics (particularly from the left and the center-left). But, really, what could possibly be more fitting for a changing world than a promise of change itself? And in governance, it has been long overdue. The time has long passed to overcast long outdated dogmas and ideologies that no longer holds true, to take a step back and another look at the relevant issues. And this is what the new US administration has promised.

And the promise it gave, it now seeks to fulfill. America now glances across the Atlantic trying to find ways to build bridges for sanctions and exclusions no longer work. In a world that is being increasingly global and local shaped by multilateral interactions it can no longer exclude for it will sooner or later result in enmity and discord and so build the bridges US must.

For three decades Iran and the United States had not been on speaking terms. And holding on to the promise of change, Tehran congratulated the new administration in Washington, something that had not been done for a long time. In the recently concluded Annual Meeting at Davos, Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said that Tehran is ready to work with President Obama to establish better relations between Tehran and Washington insisting that if the US change its policies in the Middle East they will find “a creative and cooperative reaction, including from Iran”. 

Watch Davos Annual Meeting 2009 – The Middle East Owning Its Challenges >>

Last Monday (9th Feb.) on his press conference, President Obama expressed that his administration looking for opportunities for “face-to-face” dialogue but remains cautious as it remains deeply concerned over Tehran’s actions. In the end, he expressed the wish to use “all the resources at the United States’ disposal” to resolve those “concerns” saying that the US policies are already being reviewed.

Watch Obama’s press conference >>

What made this possible? President Obama in the image of “change”, or rather, he is the promise of “change”. Change of course is subjective and we will find soon enough the subject of his administration’s change. But promises is never enough. His administration also needs charisma. In the stage of world politics, charisma is not measured by votes it involves the art of making others see your way and hear you out as well as the art of hearing others out. (I think, in the recent years this had been most evident in European leaders such as Tony Blair, Vladimir Putin, Jose MariaAznar et al.) And that’s where Secretary of State Hillary Clinton comes in. I believe this partnership is strategic and will soon bring results: President Obama as the arm of integrity and Secretary Clinton as the that of influence.

Why is this essential? First, Iran is a great force in the Middle East both as an ally and as an enemy. Second, Iran had been able to hold its ground firmly over the last three decades and it is clear that with globalization, it can no longer be ignored. Third, Tehran has political influence and relationship not only with key countries in the region but with Afganistan’s then Taliban government. Fourth, since Iran made clear that it would not halt its uranium enrichment program despite the UN demands, it will be easier to keep an eye on a ally rather than an enemy.

Foreign Minister Mottaki had it right in saying that “this are strategic issues, not tactical measures.” Indeed Washington, as it seems, needs Tehran more than the other way around as this will be a key alliance in the region but both countries can certainly do better without the threat of war hanging over their heads. And sure enough the success or failure of this alliance will affect the not only Palestine and Israel but as well as Iraq, Afganistan, Pakistan among others.

And last Tuesday Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said that “the Iranian nation is ready to hold up talks, but talks in a fair atmosphere with mutual respect”. Seyed Mohammed Marandi, a professor at the University of Tehran, told Al Jazeera: “The people burning the US flag shows how angry they are at the US. [US President Barack] Obama says Iran should change, but Iran sees it the other way round.”

Watch Ahmadinejad  addressing a rally on Tuesday (10th Feb.) >>

Iran made it clear: America had talked enough, “it’s time for them to listen”. Foreign Minister Mottaki also said that “the U.S. needs to change because the world has changed drastically”, the US can no longer bully other countries into their whims. The last three decades has shown that not everyone will be willing to do it in Washington’s terms, if America has indeed learned, it should be prepared to compromise and prepare itself to talk in Tehran’s terms.

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