Happy Nowruz? Iran finds fault with Obama's new year greeting.(Read article summary)
Both President Obama and Secretary of State Kerry hit positive notes in their messages. But Iran's Supreme Leader Khamenei was critical of other elements.
Office of the Iranian Supreme Leader/AP
And yet, even when diplomacy is in overdrive, as it is now with Iran and six world powers striving for a comprehensive nuclear deal by July, words can do as much harm as good.Â
President Barack Obama hit many of the right notes yesterday in his annual message to mark â€śNowruz,â€ť the Persian new year. He spoke of the â€śIslamic Republic of Iranâ€ť â€“Â implicitly recognizing the revolutionary state estranged from the US since 1979 â€“Â and offered the prospect of a new US-Iran relationship â€śrooted in mutual interest and mutual respect.â€ť He enthused about the â€śtalents and genius of the Iranian peopleâ€ť throughout history.
Likewise, Secretary of State John Kerry said â€śmy own family is strongerâ€ť with the â€śpresence and loveâ€ť of Iranian-Americans. He used the term â€śPersian Gulfâ€ť â€“Â instead of â€śArabian Gulf,â€ť which is favored by US allies in the region â€“ and expressed hope that the â€śharsh winters in our pastâ€ť can end. The US Treasury â€“ which oversees US sanctions on Iran â€“ issued a new license to enhance student and educational exchanges.
ButÂ the message of goodwill was undermined by a few words from President Obama that wereÂ certainlyÂ taken as a poke in Tehran. He blamed the â€śeconomic hardshipâ€ť suffered by Iranians not on the sanctions imposed by the US and Europe, but on the â€śchoices of Iranian leaders.â€ť
Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has accused Obama of â€śinsultingâ€ť Iran from his first day in office, had strong words of complaint in his own Nowruz address this morning.Â Although he did not comment on Obama's words against Iranian leadership, Mr. Khamenei alsoÂ ignored Washington's positive Nowruz tone.
Referring to top US officialsâ€™Â usualÂ talking pointsÂ that â€śall options,â€ť including military ones, can be used against Iranâ€™s nuclear program if diplomacy fails, and talk from US politicians that Iran had caved in on its principles, Mr. Khamenei said people â€śrealized the Americans are being impolite.â€ť
Calling the US the "enemy" and a "dictatorial and arrogant" power, Khamenei said today theÂ Americans â€śused rhetoric and language that was less courteous and more aggressiveâ€¦ and insulting to the peopleâ€ťÂ as the large crowd in the shrine city of Mashhad chanted â€śDeath to America!â€ťÂ
If Obama's comments cause a lasting problem, it will not be the first time that one side's mollifying balm is taken as a barb by the other.Â
In 2000, then-Secretary of State Madeleine Albright acknowledged Iranâ€™s grievances against the US, including the CIA-orchestrated coup in 1953 and support for Saddam Hussein in the Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s.
It was not an official apology, but Ms. Albright addressed many points thatÂ festered inÂ Iran. Yet she also referred to Iranâ€™s â€śunelected leadersâ€ť â€“ and those two words helped ensureÂ that US overtureÂ went nowhere,Â despite the apologetic words around it.Â