On Thursday night, President Obama sent “a special message to the people and government of Iran” on Nowruz, the start of the Persian New Year, an act that has been described as “groundbreaking.” Speaking directly to Iran’s “leaders,” Obama acknowledged “serious differences” but said the U.S. is seeking “engagement that is honest and grounded in mutual respect.”
But more importantly and perhaps somewhat overlooked, Obama indicated that he is willing “to deal with the current government” and that his goal is not regime change. He referred to Iran as the “Islamic Republic of Iran” twice in the message and stated specifically that it has the “right” to exist:
In particular, I would like to speak directly to the people and leaders of the Islamic Republic of Iran. [...] 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.
Israeli President Shimon Peres also delivered a “special message” to Iran on Nowruz, but “was addressed specifically to Iran’s people and not their government, reprising the tone of [former President] Bush.” And Peres explicitly contradicted Obama and called on the Iranian people to overthrow their government:
“[I suggest] you don’t listen to [Iranian President Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad, it is impossible to preserve a whole nation on incitement and hatred, the people will become tired of it. [...] I think that the Iranian people will topple these leaders…these leaders who don’t serve the people, in the end the people will realize that.”
The New York Times reports today that “experts” and European diplomats “applauded” Obama’s message “but expressed dismay” that Peres followed with his strictly to the Iranian people. “This is a real shame because the key effect should be Obama, and this dilutes from that,” one unnamed European official said.
Moreover, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said yesterday that both messages were not part of a coordinated plan and that the White House notified “allies” (presumably including Israel) of what Obama planned to do. But when asked if the Israelis had done the same, Gibbs suggested they had not. “I’d have to check,” he said.
MJ Rosenberg at the Israel Policy Forum writes that Peres’s goal may have been to “intentially undermine” Obama and that the Iranians might not view the conflicting messages as just a coincidence. “They would see America and Israel playing ‘good cop, bad cop,’ diminishing the effect of Obama’s remarkable overture,” he said.
Indeed, the super hawks over at the Weekly Standard picked up on the contradiction as well saying that Peres taught Obama “a thing or two,” adding, “Now that’s how a president should be speaking to the prisoners of the Mullahcracy.”