Can The U.S.-Iran Relationship Change?

khamenei-khomeini.jpegReuters reports that a representative of Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has insisted that the U.S.-Iran relationship will not change under President Obama:

Any government has ‘red lines’ and our ‘red lines’ are rejecting the arrogant policies of America and the Zionist regime,” said the representative to the Revolutionary Guards in northwestern Zanjan province, cleric Hojjatoleslam Ali Maboudi.

“Opposing the Zionist regime and defending oppressed people are among the pillars of the Islamic revolution and Iran and America’s relationship will not change because of Obama taking office,” he said, Fars News Agency reported.

As the article indicates, Khamenei communicates through a number of representatives, using them to test reactions to various ideas and policies. It’s also worth noting here that Iran is currently celebrating the 30th anniversary of its revolution — yesterday’s orbital satellite launch was intended to mark the occasion — so nationalist fervor is running high.

It’s undoubtedly true that opposition to the United States is a central ideological pillar of the Islamic Republic, and it’s not at all clear that high-level direct talks between the U.S. and Iran can change this. What is clear, however, is that the Bush administration’s “do what we want then we’ll talk” approach only resulted in Iran continuing to develop its nuclear program, and drawing closer than ever to having a nuclear weapons capability.

As Center for American Progress analyst Andrew Grotto wrote last May, talking to the Iranian government “would clarify the choice being presented to the Iranian nation by the international community: the poverty and isolation that extremism brings, or the prosperity and global respect that Iran would enjoy if it adopted a more constructive foreign policy.” Iran’s conservatives would very much prefer that that choice not be clarified. Depriving them of the ability to cast the U.S. as the recalcitrant party would remove one of their most treasured propaganda tools, so it should be no surprise that they continue to present new conditions for talks and downplay the possibility of changing the relationship.