President Obama is seemingly reversing course on his administration’s policy towards Iran this year, directing his annual Nowruz, or Persian New Year, message to the Iranian people rather than the regime, notably, speaking in support of Iranian dissidents.
“The Iranian government has responded [to anti-government protests] by demonstrating that it cares far more about preserving its own power than respecting the rights of the Iranian people,” Obama said in his message on Sunday. “For nearly two years, there has been a campaign of intimidation and abuse. Young and old; men and women; rich and poor – the Iranian people have been persecuted.” He continued, “The future of Iran belongs to the young people – the youth who will determine their own destiny…. And though times may seem dark, I want you to know that I am with you.”
Iranians protest against Tehran’s June 2009 presidential elections, believed to be rigged.
The president’s 2011 message is markedly different from his 2010 and 2009 speeches. In 2009, Obama spoke directly to Iran’s leaders, telling them he seeks engagement based on “mutual respect” and to pursue “constructive ties” between the two nations. And in 2010, while the president mentioned the Iranian regime’s brutal crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrators during the previous year, he continued to speak to the Iranian regime, saying that his “offer of comprehensive diplomatic contacts and dialogue stands.”
While the president should be commended for his 2011 Nowruz message, much about the administration’s Iranian policy remains unclear. For example, how does the administration plan to deal with the Iranian regime at this point, specifically, when it comes to nuclear proliferation and human rights abuses? Moreover, exactly how does the president plan on supporting the democratic opposition in Iran? As recent events in Libya illustrate, it is nearly impossible for a people alone to defeat a ruling regime unafraid to use the most brutal repressive measures to quell a rebellion.
Actions speak louder than words, and when it comes to Iran, strong U.S. actions are desperately needed, perhaps now more than ever.