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Obama starts a new era with Iran

By Mahtab Farid, Washington, DC

While much of US media focused on the fact America had is first African-American president, Obama's 19 minute address quickly recast how the US will deal with conflicts in the Middle East and could lead to a thawing of relationship with Iran sharing boarders with Iraq and Afghanistan.

"To all other peoples and governments who are watching today, from the grandest capitals to the small village where my father was born: know that America is a friend of each nation and every man, woman, and child who seeks a future of peace and dignity, and that we are ready to lead once more," said Obama.

So what does his speech mean to Iran?

"What Mr. Obama is saying is that know that we are a friend of all those who we may have many disagreements with," said Patrick Clawson, deputy director for research at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. According to Clawson, these words set a different tone from Bush's policies, "that if you are not with us, you are against us."

Ilan Berman, Vice President of the American Foreign Policy Council in Washington, DC said, "I read this to be a confirmation of Obama's suggestion, articulated during the presidential campaign, that his administration would start with what is effectively a 'blank slate' in diplomacy."

Berman added, "Obama's administration is prepared to assume the best, and will generally cooperate with those foreign nations which demonstrate their commitment to development and peaceful international relations."

Two young Iranians

According to the White House official website, "Obama supports tough and direct diplomacy with Iran without preconditions. Now it is the time to use the power of American diplomacy to pressure Iran to stop their illicit nuclear program, support for terrorism, and threats toward Israel."

The official policy of US towards Iran will be offering Iran incentives like membership in the World Trade Organization, economic investments in return for Iran to abandon its nuclear program and support for terrorism.

However, according to the White House, if Iran continues its troubling behavior, the United States will step up the economy pressure and political isolation.

Arlen Specter, Republican senator from Pennsylvania and ranking member of judiciary committee said, "Problems with Iran can not be solved without talks."

Senator Specter made these comments during Hillary Clinton's confirmation on Wednesday as she became the US Secretary of State with a vote of 94-2 with Senator David Vitter, Republican from Louisiana, and Senator Jim DeMint, Republican from South Carolina, voting against.

Senator Specter said that he talked to the Iranian Ambassador to the United Nations, but expressed concern talking directly to Ahmadinejad, who has advocated wiping Israel off the map.

During Obama's Inauguration speech, he told the Muslim world that United States seeks a new way forward, based on mutual interest and respect, "To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history; but that we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist."

Ilan Berman said, "The reference to the Muslim world is a significant one for Middle Eastern audiences, as is Obama's reference to "the silencing of dissent." According to Berman, Obama suggests that his administration will be concerned about the internal conditions that prevail in the Middle East, and not simply the security threats that emanate from it. At the same time, however, his pledge to "extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist" is consistent with his already-announced plans to engage diplomatically with Iran and Syria. The assumption here is that his administration can succeed where its predecessors failed: in catalyzing a more moderate political line in Tehran and Damascus.

Mahtab Farid is an award winning international reporter, founder of US Iran NEWS and an expert in US Iran relations.
Obama's administration announced on Thursday, former Senator George Mitchell will be the Middle East envoy to deal with the ongoing peace challenges in the Middle East.
Secretary Clinton also announced that Richard Holbrooke will be President Obama's special envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan.

According to Clawson, his colleague Dennis Ross former Middle East negotiator may have the responsibility to deal with the Iranian portfolio.

United States and Iran have not had a diplomatic relations for the past thirty years. During Bush's administration, the two countries met on ambassadorial level to discuss issues on reconstruction of Iraq and Afghanistan.

You could also read my reporter's notes on Bush's administration policies towards Iran:

... Payvand News - 01/25/09 ... --

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