As featured on p. 218 of "Bloggers on the Bus," under the name "a MyDD blogger."

Friday, March 20, 2009

Holiday Engagement

Barack Obama's message to the Iranian people on Nowruz, their new year's holiday, is the first historic thing he has done. Obviously the domestic agenda will swamp everything else in the short term, but in retrospect, historians will remember this message, fulfilling his promise to offer a new level of engagement to the whole world, without the silly constraints American bullies put on themselves.

I've put the whole text in case you can't watch the video right now. The Farsi script was also placed on their website, along with a subtitled video. A celebratory video will not unfreeze relations overnight. Indeed, the near-term headline in the region will probably be the two Navy warships colliding in the Straits of Hormuz, which will set the conspiratorial tongues wagging. But it is a powerful symbol, the extended hand to the clenched fist. Obama, as per usual, speaks to the common humanity that transcends culture, and the need to resolve differences through mutual respect and international cooperation (Russia is responding well to calls for a deal on Iran, so we are not lifting the entire bale here). This is just his negotiating style, summed up by the line from a Persian poem he quotes: "The children of Adam are limbs to each other, having been created of one essence." Obviously the policy differences get in the way of this approach - this would be a better method - but at the end of the day we're all human beings, and tone matters. It will be harder for Iranian hardliners to call the man in that video the great Satan. The pressure for a resolution will increase. The lowered voices are less susceptible to demagoguery.

Of course the words must match the action - but I am very happy to see this outreach.

THE PRESIDENT: 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.

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